Wednesday, April 30, 2014

International Wine of the Month Club

International Wine of the Month Club

The International Wine of the Month Club has several options: receive 2 reds, 2 whites, or 1 of each. If you like what you tasted, you can order more of your favorites while supplies of those wines last.  Memberships make great gifts, as you can order from 2 to 12 months. You can also design your own club by combining shipments from their Wine, Beer, Cheese, Chocolate, Cigar, or Flower clubs. Their referral program gives a friend 50% off one month (with 3 months or more) and you also get 50% off a month. Nice.

Domaine du Grand Tinel Chateauneuf-du-Pape Blanc 2011
  • 65% White Grenache, 15% Clairette, and 20% Bourbolenc; light straw-colored wine; apricot and citrus flower aromas; melon and lemon flavors into a subtle honeyed lemon finish; cork closure; 13.5% ABV; SRP $98/2 bottles.
Casa Silva Reserva Carmenere 2010
  • A deep purple wine with ruby edges;  dark berry, bell pepper, earth, and spice aromas; bright berry, earth, coffee and mocha flavors into an attractive peppery finish with some tannins; cork closure; SRP $42/2 bottles.
The Domaine du Grand Tinel Chateauneuf-du-Pape Blanc 2011 and the Casa Silva Reserva Carmenere 2010 are representative of what one might expect each month, showing that the club holds high standards. Both bottles are of the heavier variety utilized by good bottlers and the wines are good examples of their respective styles.

Interested? Get more info on the International Wine of the Month Club website, Twitter,  and Facebook.

Disclaimer: These wines were sent to us for review purposes - all opinions are our own.

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Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Noshin' in Champaign, IL

Last week we popped down to Champaign for a couple of days, me to vacation and Laima to work the Illinois Marathon expo. I took the kids to some museums, the Arboretum, and the Public Library (which is fantastic), spent some time by the hotel pool, and managed to get out for some decent craft beer and pizza.

Destihl Restaurant and Pizzeria

For lunch Friday, we headed over to Destihl Restaurant and Brew Works, me for the craft beer and the kids for the root beer floats they were promised for dessert (unfortunately, Destihl does not brew their own root beer like many brewpubs are doing nowadays). The kids menu in general is pretty good, with a huge fruit bowl as a side option. Always nice when fruits and veggies are offered to the kids. For lunch I ordered the Shredded Brussels Sprouts Salad, which sounded unusual and tasty: sun-dried cherries, mandarin oranges, red bell peppers, candied applewood-smoked bacon, red onion, maple and jalapeño bacon dressing. My beer flight consisted of the Juicy Juicy Mango IPA, Black Angel Stout, and the Roadblock Red Ale.I initially didn't think the beers were all that great (especially the IPA, which wasn't particularly redolent of mango), but the beers became more lively once tasted with the food. Those three definitely are food beers, which is a good thing, but had I just tasted them on their own I might have been disappointed.

Beautiful decor, plenty of seating, and free parking next door in the parking garage with validation - nice package. Beers were decent, food was good, service well-meaning but not polished. Definitely worth a visit when in Champaign.

Destihl Restaurant & Brew Works on Urbanspoon

Destihl Restaurant on Foodio54

Vinny's East Coast Pizzeria

For dinner we went to check out Vinny's East Coast Pizzeria, located in what looks like a former bank building, complete with working drive-up window. Nothing fancy, but a menu that seems endless, though as with all pizzerias it seems, veggies are given short shrift. We ordered pizzas and calzones and enjoyed it all. There's a lot more to the menu than those two, but why go off on a tangent? Great crust, a variety of sauce options, plenty of ingredients to make your dream meat pizza. Being close to the campus, I'm sure this is a student favorite.

Vinny's East Coast Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

Vinny's Llc on Foodio54

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Thursday, April 24, 2014

Lodi Native Project

Lodi Native Project

A few nights ago, we were fortunate enough to sit in on an amazing educational wine experience. The Lodi Native Project is a collaborative vision, with 6 winegrowers from the Lodi Wine Mokelumne River sub-AVA. The spotlight is on the region’s heritage plantings – minimalist winemaking, native yeasts, and no new oak. The initial focus has been on Zinfandel, though discussions are underway on other possibilities.

One thing that immediately becomes apparent is that these are true agricultural treasures being put on display. Marian’s Vineyard is an 8.3-acre site featuring own-rooted vines planted in 1901. Noma Ranch is a 15-acre vineyard that has own-rooted, head trained vines dating to early 1900s. Soucie Vineyard was planted in 1916 - vines are own-rooted and head trained. The Century Block Vineyard is a 3-acre patch of own-rooted Zinfandel planted in 1905. Trulux Vineyard, planted in the 1940s on St. George rootstock has unusually tall head trained vines, some over 6 feet tall. Wegat Vineyard is 21-acres of head trained vines, budded on St. George rootstock in 1958 by the family. That's a lot of history. Thankfully (maybe), the grapes from many of these vineyards were used to make White Zinfandel, keeping them useful, but now is their chance to really shine and show off the terroir that makes each unique.

Wines must be 100% Zinfandel bottlings from a single contiguous vineyard (exception: old vine plantings with long established field mixes) located within the Lodi AVA. There is to be a preference for established “old vine” plantings (i.e. pre-1962), with exceptions made for distinctive younger plantings. Only native yeast (non-inoculated) fermentations only are allowed. Adding to the wine or winemaking process is frowned upon:
No use of oak chips, dust or similar amendments.
No acidification or de-acidification.
No new oak or use of innerstaves in aging process.
No water addition or de-alcoholizing measures.
No tannin additions.
No inoculation for malolactic fermentation.
No use of Mega-Purple or other concentrate products.
No filtering or fining.
No must concentration, Flash Détente or similar extraction measures.
Proposed cuvées are to be submitted by each producer for sensory evaluation and subsequent approval of entire group.
Preference for vineyards certified by Lodi Rules for Sustainable Winegrowing and/or CCOF.
One thing for sure is that these wines are solidly made, with care and humility, allowing the terroir of the vineyards to express themselves. Each one is quite different from each of the others and it was a pleasure to drink our way through the samples. Lodi Native Project wines are available to buy in 6-bottle cases - 6 different single-vineyard bottlings at the Lodi Wine Visitor Center. To learn more, visit the Lodi Native website. Also, be sure to check out the video of the evening on the Brandlive website.

Sincere thanks to Stuart Spencer (St. Amant Winery), Jerry and Bruce Fry (Mohr-Fry Ranches), Tim Holdener (Macchia Wines), Leland Noma, Layne Montgomery (m2 Wines), Kevin Soucie, Ryan Sherman (Fields Family Wines), Michael McCay (McCay Cellars), Keith Watts, Chad Joseph (Maley Brothers), and Todd Maley for participating in this project. We hope to see many more of these coming through the years.

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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Wine Wednesday: Salvador Dali

Salvador Dali Wine Quote

Love his surrealist artwork, admire or denigrate his politics, there is no question in my mind that Dali could turn a phrase. Happy Wine Wednesday!

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Tuesday, April 22, 2014

World Malbec Day Winechat

Last week was World Malbec Day and, if you participated, on hell of a wine chat featuring Argentine Malbecs. With seemingly endless bottles being discussed, the banter was fast and furious, easily one of the quickest hours I've spent discussing wine.

Famiglia Bianchi 2011 Malbec

There is no one style of Malbec wine, though a hallmark is its earthiness and ability to pair with heavier meat dishes. Some of the highlights from wines we tasted: organically grown grapes, high altitude (750 meters above sea level) vineyards; native yeasts used; aged in oak; blackberry, dark plum, mushroom, and vanilla aromas; smoky plum, cola, unripe berry, red plum and raspberry flavors; medium mouthfeel; tannic finishes. Most of the wines clocked in at or above 14% ABV, but were well-balanced, so not an issue. 

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Thursday, April 17, 2014

Lenne Estate #Winechat

I think it's very cool that Stephen Lutz, owner of Lenne Estate, manages all the vineyard, winemaking and business aspects. Lutz previously worked at Beringer, Franciscan, Inglenook, Vichon, Merryvale (Napa) and Chateau Benoit and Anne Amie (Oregon), so he has a wide range of experience and it shows in the wine.

Lenne Estate Pinot Noir

The Lenne Estate vineyard shares a ridge with Willakenzie Estate, Deux Vert, Shea, Solena, Roots and Penner-Ash. We had the opportunity to taste a few of the others at a Portfolio tasting earlier this week, and there seems to be some similarities between them, in a very positive way. The vineyard was planted between 2001-2004 at an elevation of 375-575 feet, with 2,084 vines per acre. The philosophy from the beginning has been to dry farm, forcing the roots deep to look for water and nutrients.

Tasting Notes:
2010 Pinot Noir: cold soaked 5 days; fermented, then aged for 11 months in French oak barrels; ruby red color with mahogany edges; violet, tomato, green tea, and earthy aromas; rhubarb, oregano, olive and mushroom flavors into a cinnamon and black pepper on finish; satiny texture with moderate tannins; cork closure; 225 cases produced;  SRP $45.00. Could probably use a few years in bottle, if not more - this is one to buy and lay down to taste the progression.
In a related matter, if you love Oregon wine, you can become an investor in a proposed 12,000 case custom crush wine facility at Lenné. More information on the Lenne Estate Investment webpage.

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Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Recommended Reads: Craft Beer and Provence

We get offered a variety of books to review, some interesting, some not so much. Pretty much anything food, wine, or craft beer has the possibility of transporting you to places you want to be. These books were a welcome source of escapism this brutal winter, along with teaching me a bunch about what they were written about.

Hoosier Beer

Hoosier Beer: Tapping Into Indiana Brewing History, by Bob Ostrander and Derrick Morris, is one of the most fastidiously researched books I've ever read, full of minutiae, facts, and stories. Even with such an esoteric subject, this seems as comprehensive as a school textbook, with a minimum of the possibly dryness. See where and how beer was brewed in Indiana, and what that also meant to the surrounding states.

Chicago by the Pint

Chicago By the Pint: A Craft Beer History of the Windy City, by Denese Neu, is almost a disappointment at first, because it's not about the beer, but then you realize how much history surrounds the locations of these breweries and it turns out to be pretty interesting. As the author points out, this is a history book to be read while sitting in the brewery tasting room and contemplating one's surroundings.

Audacity of Hops

Audacity of Hops: The History of America's Craft Beer Revolution, by Tom Acitelli, is far and away the best single book I've read about the history of craft beer making in the United States. Part research paper, part oral history, the author takes us step by step from the very humble beginnings of a few out there guys who wanted to bring back good beer to the now confusing world of what exactly is an American craft beer. Amazingly researched, deeply addictive reading, this is a craft beer primer that every aficionado should read and then re-read.

Provence Food and Wine

Provence Food and Wine: The Art of Living, by Francois Millo and Viktorija Todorovska, is exactly what the doctor ordered to dispel any gloominess brought on by the polar vortices experienced this Midwestern winter. Beyond being a beautiful little paperback book, it's a useful primer on the land, wines, and food of this dream land in the south of France. If you're not inspired to live a more gracious life after reading this treat of a book, you may be too far gone to be rescued.

Disclaimer: These books were provided for review purposes - all opinions are my own.

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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Flippin' Sweet and Craft Beer

Our road trip to Breckenridge for Spring Break was a pleasant surprise this year. The kids were flat out awesome in the car, which is a victory in and of itself. We didn't even have to bribe them with movies in the car or anything. I think a big part of it is that we try to stop every few hours, either to switch drivers or to fill up with gas, and we make sure the kids jump out and get moving: jumping, climbing, running. Definitely breaks up the possible monotony.

This year another pleasant surprise was Kearney, NE. We usually stop in Lincoln, but this year there were literally no hotel rooms available to accommodate our family. So we pushed on a bit and ran into some luck. Kearney is the home of a large regional state university, so there is a bit of culture thrown in as well as better dining options. The rest is typical strip malls.

The Flippin' Sweet

On the way, we stopped for dinner at The Flippin' Sweet - a semi-hipsterish almost-dive pizza joint, with some fun design ideas and good food. Seat yourself if you can, not a lot of chairs available, but they have take-out as well. Write down your order on the handy forms, take up to the kitchen and get ready. (But not with a beer - Flippin' Sweet has no liquor license, which is really the only negative about the whole experience.) A friendly neighboring table suggested the mac 'n' cheese for the boys, which we ordered and all loved, and also told us that the servings were big. They were not kidding. While the owners say a calzone will feed 1-2, they are so huge that 4 people could easily be happy sharing one.  Order 2 for 4 people only if you want to take it home. One other problem is picking just one (or 2), as there are SO many options!

The Flippin Sweet on Urbanspoon

Thunderhead Brewing Company

On the way back home, we stopped in Kearney again, and I got to slake my thirst for Nebraskan craft beer at Thunderhead Brewing Company. Get a flight of beer ($1.50 a large taste of 5 beers), order the Nachos (yes, $15 is a lot for a plate of nachos, but it's a big plate). Calzones are undersized for the price, but tasty. Spuds are on the pricey size as well, but huge potatoes and plenty of toppings make it easier to swallow the cost. But really you're here for the beer. Housed in a former Schlitz saloon, the building was forbidden from selling alcohol after the saloon closed, but only for 20 years, so Thunderhead is good to go. The beers are well-made and cover a wide spectrum - beyond more typical craft brews, I tried a peach option as well as a jalapeño one, both better than you would think.

Thunderhead Brewing on Urbanspoon

If you find yourself in Kearney, visit The Flippin' Sweet and Thunderhead Brewing Company for better-than average food and drink. Don't order too much, because this is the Midwest, and portion sizes are ENORMOUS.

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Thursday, April 10, 2014

Craft Beers and Microbreweries Infographic

Craft beer is becoming big business, though still a small part of the overall beer market. Having a Boulder Beer Shake Chocolate Stout with dinner the other night, I was amazed to see people still ordering Bud Light when craft beers were available. No accounting for taste. Or cost. Craft beers, while undeniably more tasty, often are also more expensive to drink. One way to somewhat mitigate this is to try home brewing. Basic equipment kits start around $50 (depending on complexity and capacity), and you can expect to spend about $50 in materials for 5 gallons, or about 2 cases of beer. Here's a fun info graphic about the business of craft brewing and how to get started brewing at home:

Business of Beer

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Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Are You Ready To Change - Think About Rehab (Spam Email)

Alcohol Abuse Center

Maybe my favorite spam email I've received lately, because it one day could be appropriate (but hopefully not):
"You Can Start Over Now.
LEARN SELF CONTROL! You Can Beat Alcoholism.
Statistics show that you are not alone when it comes to battling alcoholism.
There are Programs and counselors who are trained to help you get Your Life back.
Look NOW - Find an alcohol rehab near you."
Reminds me of my favorite bar name ever: the Alcohol Abuse Center (aka Tuman’s Tap and Grill in Ukrainian Village, Chicago).

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Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Lagunitas Brewing Company Little Sumpin' Sumpin'

Life is Uncertain. Don't Sip.

Lagunitas Brewing Company Little Sumpin' Sumpin'

Huge head on initial pour, kept foam nicely throughout tasting; yellow with some orange notes to the color; tropical and citrus fruit aromas; similar fruit tastes to start with some caramel and wheat notes, then pine mid-palate, into a tart/bitter finish; nicely balanced, light mouthfeel; good carbonation throughout; ABV: 7.50%. Outstanding effort on the part of Lagunitas!

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Thursday, April 3, 2014

Underground Cellar's Sonoma Winecation Giveaway!

Sonoma Winecation Giveaway

Talk about a giveaway worth winning: a weekend stay at the luxurious Villa Terra Nova Wine Country Retreat in Sonoma, CA. valued at $6,500.00 (US Dollars). Additional prizes include over $3,000.00 of gift cards for free wine. Details on entering the contest can be found at Underground Cellar.

After successfully beta-testing their website, Underground Cellar is opening its program to the general public. Rather than providing value to buyers through discounts, value is provided through randomized upgrades to more premium wines. Not only does this allow a winery to maintain its price point by never advertising it at a discount, but it also provides a fun new way for wine consumers to experience high-end wines they might not otherwise purchase or even have access to.

Underground Cellar also allows its members to accumulate and store their purchases for free and for an unlimited amount of time in its state-of-the-art, humidity and temperature controlled wine cellar located in Napa Valley, CA. Known as the “CloudCellar,” members can mix-and-match bottles from different wineries over time, and when they are ready to receive them can simply click on their “CloudCellar” tab and select which bottles they want delivered to their door (members can even request them to arrive chilled and ready to drink nearly anywhere in the US). This provides buyers a cost-effective way to try wines from many different wineries, because by collecting bottles together the user can save on shipping fees: it’s only $5 to ship 6 bottles, with free shipping on 12 or more.

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Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Wine Wednesday: A Drink a Day

Edward Abbey: A Drink a Day

Edward Abbey was onto something - add a beautiful view and someone interesting to drink with, and you've pretty much covered the bases. Happy Wine Wednesday all!

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