Friday, December 28, 2007

On Vacation!

Tomorrow marks the start of a 9 day absence from civilization. Well unless you consider LA civilized. I will be on vacation until Jan. 8th. Stay tuned, because there will be lots to share when I return. Tasting Room Visits, Cruises, and New Year's Eve Champagne Boycotts.

Have a Happy New Year! See you in a week.

A Jewel in Cedar Rapids Iowa

Past experience has shown me that wine shops in the Rural Midwest can be hit or miss. And so it was that Christmas dinner part one found me hunting for a couple of wines in the town of Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Not content with the supermarket selection that never fails to disappoint, I headed to the web looking for another option. I found it in The 1st Avenue Wine House.

This is an old house converted into a wine shop, and what a wine shop it is. 3 stories of wines, and not just any wines, but carefully thought out selections of very good stuff, paired with a generous helping of knowledgeable sales staff. I love that it seems like they have tried every wine in the shop on multiple occasions and can steer me to the perfect bottle.

On top of being well versed and well stocked, they were offering a tasting when I walked in the door. A range of wines were open, with no particular theme. The distributor was on hand full of interesting tidbits about the wines, and he was more than willing to share information about all kinds of stuff.

I came home with a mediocre bottle of Chardonnay, which was my fault since I got exactly what I asked for, and should have known better. I'm beginning to understand why Napa doesn't produce subtle Chardonnay, its too damn hot. I found redemption in a bottle of Italian Chianti that paired like a champ next to a plate of homemade lasagna. All I can say is, mmm. Unfortunately I can't recall the producer, so I'm gonna have to research that.

What I was most pleased about though was a connection I made while tasting. On my trip to Tango Sur a couple weeks ago, I had a bottle of BenMarco Malbec. The salesman at Sam's mentioned that it was produced by a husband wife team. While at 1st Ave Wine House, the distributor mentioned another Malbec under a different label, with the same addendum. I inquired, and sure enough, it was the same producer. I'll say it now, the wines of Pedro Marchevsky and Susana Balbo are worth seeking out. I'm obviously late to this party, but I've arrived.

It looks like that resolution is getting easier to keep. Maybe this year will be my year to discover Argentina and all it has to offer.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Merry Chritmas

Tomorrow is Christmas Eve. For me that means lots of eating, drinking, and passing the time with family.
I hope for all of you out there it means time with family relaxing and appreciating what you have. May you have a Merry Christmas, and may it be filled with good food and great wine.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

New Year's Resolutions

So its that time. All the bloggers, and even those who don't blog, are putting together their list of New Year's resolutions. I figured I'd join in the fun and add mine to the fray. Its a simple list really:

  • Drink more wine - this one is obvious, and on the surface should be pretty easy. I want to drink more wine for the health benefits, for the pure enjoyment it brings me, and so that I learn more about my palate. 2007 brought about a revelation for me that I love Bordeaux. If I drink more 2008 might bring about a newfound appreciation for Italian or Chinese wine, who knows.
  • Stop Drinking Champagne - I've already shared my loathing of all things sparkling. Life's just too short to drink stuff I don't like. Parties, weddings, New Years, all of it, I'm just saying no.
  • Drink better wine - maybe more important than drinking more wine is the quality of the wine I drink. This goes hand in hand with the Champagne resolution, but its more generic. I want to be drinking the best wine I can get my hands on. Fortunately the best way to ensure that I'm drinking better wine is to make sure I'm sticking to my first resolution.
  • Explore more wine bars in Chicago - this one might be tough. This was one of my goals for 2007. I made it to a grand total of 1 this year. Next year is gonna be better. I'm planning to actively seek out and visit wine bars.
So there it is. My resolution list. What about you? What wine resolutions have you made for next year?

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Christmas Dinner

I'm faced with a conundrum this year. I'm spending Christmas this year with my wife's family. They are wonderful people, but they are not wine drinkers. I can be sure that the closest thing to a bottle of wine at Christmas dinner will be rum and coke. Actually I suppose there's a chance a bottle of Blue Nunn might make it to the table, but I don't know if that really counts. So while the roast cooks, and my mouth waters thinking of all the great wines that could have been matched with it, what's a wine lover to do? Should I bring a couple bottles along with me and just offer them up? Should I get over it and just enjoy the meal? I'm at a loss, any thoughts?

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

If I had $275 I didn't need...

...I'd be spending it on this.

While its a little out of my budget, a comparative tasting of 40 of the worlds best wines from two of the best vintages of the past 25 years, would be high on my list of fun things to do.

If you're so inclined, and have the expendable income, this one should be a memorable experience.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Tango Sur

My sister was in town this weekend, so despite the 9 inches of snow falling on the city Saturday night, I braved the elements and spent the afternoon shopping on Michigan Ave., and capped the night off with a phenomenal meal at Tango Sur.

All afternoon we played tourist and hopped from shop to shop along the Magnificent Mile. As is typical for a full day of shopping we returned to the car with a solitary meat thermometer. The lights were pretty, and the free chocolate from Ghiradelli was scrumptious.

The highlight of the day was absolutely our trip to Tango Sur. Tango Sur is an Argentinian steak house. They serve generous portions of Latin American and Argentinian dishes. We started the meal with some great empenadas and warm chewy bread. I've said it before, but I could eat nothing but hot, moist bread and be very happy. After the appetizers we moved onto the real attraction, the meat. I hat a filet, "El Filet" actually. It was good, and on any other night I would have been satisfied. The trouble was that my wife and sister ordered Steak Vesuvio. This was a cut of sirloin, I believe, stuffed with cheese and spinach, and cooked to mouthwatering perfection. The steak was moist, well marinated, and downright amazing.

To top it all off Tango Sur is a BYOB establishment. Not only can you bring your own wine, but there is no corkage fee. We stopped by Sam's on our way to take advantage of their nice selection of Argentinian wines. We picked up a nice bottle of Ben Marco Malbec on the recommendation of the salesman. It was a good bottle of wine, but for $20 in what I consider a value region, the wine should have been more complex and powerful. As it was, it was lacking in a tannic element and all around depth.

Overall it was a wonderful meal to cap off a wonderful afternoon with family that I see too little of. I'm looking forward to a return visit very soon.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Ruby Tuesday's new menu

Benito's Wine Reviews just posted about a trip down memory lane involving some Yuengling and a turkey sandwich. The sandwich sounds good, but it was the Yuengling that got me going. I had Yuengling Lager for the first time over the Thanksgiving holiday. On a trip from Knoxville to Nashville (I was home in Tennessee for the week), we stopped at a Ruby Tuesday for lunch.

If you haven't been to Ruby Tuesday in a while you are missing out. There is a class of restaurant just above fast food, but not quite fancy. The restaurants that fall into that category include Friday's, Chilli's, Applebee's, and so on. I've always lumped Ruby Tuesday into the same category. I must say though that my last few trips there have been fabulous. In an effort to differentiate themselves from the aforementioned pack, Ruby Tuesday's has created what seems like a new category of dining. They are attempting to offer an original menu, exquisitely made food, and a price that doesn't go too much above their competitors. Its working.

They have wonderful crab cakes, the best burger I've ever had in any restaurant anywhere, and a set of signature drinks to match. So far every visit I've made since the new menu has been stellar, with the exception of one.

At a Ruby Tuesday in Central Illinois I stopped for lunch after a backpacking trip. Usually after a backpacking trip, I am starving, and as such don't really care what goes down the gullet. This particular trip though I was delighted to find a well put together menu of carefully chosen craft beers. Not only was I going to feed myself, I was going to get to do it in style. Mmm mmm. So imagine my surprise as I went down the list, the list on the menu mind you, and rattled off one wonderful sounding ale after another, only to be told by the server that "we don't carry that beer", and "that's on the 'corporate' menu. Ruined. My. Day. I settled for a lemonade, hoping that it wasn't just on the corporate menu.

My letter to the folks at Ruby Tuesday is still forthcoming, and Benito's post on Yeungling has reminded me that its time to write it up. Maybe my time in Iowa over Christmas will afford me the opportunity to write it.

Buying Wine Online

If you want to buy wine online from an out of state retailer you only have 18 days left. On Jan. 1st, new legislation goes into effect that will prevent Illinois residents from purchasing wine from out of state retailers. Get the cheap stuff while you still can.

The legislation is ridiculous, and I hope it is found unconstitutional soon. In the meantime you and I are SOL. Lets all raise a glass to higher prices and a smaller selection of those hard to find wines.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Game Night

I grew up in the age of video games. I can't remember a time in my consciousness when I didn't have some sort of computerized gaming system in my home. Despite that I've always been a die hard board game player. I've played a lot of board games, but the one that will always hold a special place in my heart is Axis and Allies.

A game of strategy centered around the last morally superior war. Me and 4 friends locked in combat determining the future of the world! Whats not to love? And on top of all that, what better excuse to sit in a dimly lit room, drink Port and Scotch, and smoke cigars while cursing like, well, a general.

Can't you just see Ike or Göring sitting around planning, snifter in hand? Good times. I'm excited, because those good times will come to fruition this weekend. Game on, as they say. I'm pulling out the 15 year and the LBV (What about vintage you say? You think I'm made of money?!). The battle will rage long into the night, and in the end I'll be crowned victor. You didn't think it could end any other way did you?

Let it Snow

It snowed here last night. In fact it snowed quite a bit. Shoveling snow is one of my least favorite activities. When we bought a house, my wife sold me on it by telling me she would mow the grass and shovel the snow. Any married man knows exactly how long that lasted. The nice thing about the snow is that it puts me in the mood for a glass of red wine to warm up by the fire with. So after last night's shoveling I poured a glass of Concha Y' Toro Marquis De Casa Concha 2004 Merlot.

The wine, like the name, is a mouthful. I don't remember what I paid for this wine, but I'm guessing it was around $14. I have never had a wine so mouth coating for so little money. This wine was rich, tannic, and downright delicious. It oozed blackberries and chocolate, and had tannins the texture of those strings on a banana (thats a good thing). If shoveling snow makes every wine taste this good, I say "let it snow".

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Goin' to California

I've got big plans for the New Year. I'm going to be out west for 9 days. My hub of activity will be Irvine, but I'm taking a couple jaunts to Santa Barbara County, and to Ensenada, Mexico.

I've got one full day to spend in the wine country, and I'm really looking forward to it. I don't know much about the area, but I know that good times await. Arthur from has been very generous in helping me identify some good places to sip and eat. On top of that my sister-in-law has a family friend by the name of Longoria, maybe you've heard of their wines. She is trying to get us a tour of the winery which I'm really excited about.

My trip down to Mexico will be via a slow moving floating bathtub called Carnival Paradise. I've been on exactly one cruise before, and it included me breaking up with my then girlfriend, not exactly giving me a strong positive bias. I'm not incredibly excited about the cruising portion of the trip, stuck on a boat with nothing to do but drink overpriced margaritas. The food and wine part though, look out. Cruises are known for their food, I'm hoping this one lives up to the expectations. Armed with a couple bottles of Santa Barbara wine, dinners should be fantastic. To top it all off, we've decided to take an ATV ride through the countryside and finish the day off in Ensenada with a trip to a Mexican winery. It should be interesting, and if nothing else it will provide some excellent blog fodder.

All that and I've still got a couple days to bum around in LA. I'm visiting family while I'm in Irvine, so I don't want to drag them all over town, but I haven't really spent too much time in LA. I've seen the tar pits, Disney, and the Santa Monica Pier. I've also been to the Rose Bowl (the only truly fun thing I've done in LA). If anyone has some tips for some cheap, not entirely touristy, things to do in LA, I'd love to hear 'em.

Until then I'm counting down the days.

Champagne for the Holidays

I can't stand Champagne. I can't put my finger on exactly why, but I know that from the moment I lift it to my nose until the last drop is washed down by something, anything, that cleanses the palate, I'm disgusted.

I drink the stuff roughly twice a year. Once at New Year's, once for my Anniversary, and as a courtesy at weddings. I've had everything from mainstream bottlings of Napa stuff, to this so-called renaissance growers Champagne. Never have I liked it, not even in the slightest.

Every year at New Year's my optimism is renewed and I go out and drop a good chunk of change on a nice bottle of whatever the wine guy tells me is both good and unique. I hurry home and chill it down nice and cold. Then Midnight rolls around and I'm once again riddled with disappointment.

My only respite in the sparkling wine department is a small contingent of wines that fall under the contingent of cheap Asti. Martini & Rossi and Tosti make a sweet sparkler. They are in my opinion the only stomachable sparklers out there. However, these are not what any self respecting Champagne drinker would be caught dead with. Oh well, I guess I'll just have to endure being the butt of a few jokes.

I'm writing about this because Champagne tastings have overtaken Chicago. Every liquor store is having a Champagne tasting this month. If you love Champagne, well lucky you. It might be possible to attend a Champagne tasting every day for the next 30 days. For me though, I'm stuck waiting for january to bring a return to normal for all the wine shops in town.