Thursday, March 23, 2006

Teruzzi & Puthod, Terre di Tufi, 04

We had this Teruzzi & Puthod, Terre di Tufi, 04 the other night with dinner. It was such a nice complement to the bucatini primavera and chicken stuffed with prosciutto crudo, fresh sage and Mexican white melting cheese.

On its own, this is reminiscent of the Vernaccia we had a few weeks ago, given that they're both from San Gimignano, although this is definitely more refined. The citrus notes were still present, but there was a stronger undertone of minerality. Natalie detected the crispness of apples as well. 88 points.

The label on this bottle is great too. It looks like a dining scene from a medieval tapestry, which is appropriate since San Gimignano is such a medieval hill town.

3/18/06 Dinner Party

It's been a while since I posted because Natalie and I were both under the weather last week and not really in the mood to try any new wines. With our friends, John and Sally, in town, we decided to go ahead and have a little dinner party Saturday night. Sally is super pregnant and drank sparkling Welch's, which I won't be reviewing. Brendan and Kristine and Dan and Danielle joined us for dinner (with Finn and Aidan). I made Tuscan White Bean Dip on toasted Italian bread, a Calamari all'Amatriciana appetizer, risotto with spinach, and veal saltimbocca. Natalie made a really, really good tunnel o' fudge bundt cake with homemade chocolate sauce.

We asked people to bring wine to share. John and Sally brought a Copolla Claret that I stashed for another evening. I opened a Montes Alpha Syrah 2003, Colchagua Valley, Chile and decanted to have with dinner and we went through several other bottles throughout the night.

We had, in order:

• Colonia Las Liebres, Bonarda, 2004, Mendoza, Argentina
This was a good wine to begin with. It was spicy, interesting and woke up the palates. It wasn't light, like an aperitif, but was more like a hearty first course. We got this one from Binny's, big surprise, for less than $12. I'd give it a 87-88. It was dark fruit, some tobacco/tar on the finish. Well-balanced tannins.
• Montes Alpha Syrah 2003, Colchagua Valley, Chile
This is one of my new favorites. It's affordable (less than $14 on sale), fairly easy to find (at Binny's), and goes with a wide variety of dishes. I'd give it 92 points. Has really smooth black cherry/blackberry fruit in the beginning with some coffee bite on the finish, but this wine is definitely smooth. We had this when we went out for Natalie birthday to Sweets & Savories on Fullerton and loved it then and this didn't let me down.
• 2003 Cousino-Macul, Antiguas Reservas, Cabernet Sauvignon, Chile
This wine was one of the bottles our guests brought. I liked it. Not knowing anything about the wine, it was a "light" Cab. After having so many big, big, big California Cabs, this one was nice. It reminded me of solid Italian reds. Some black fruit and good tannic balance. I'd give it 84, maybe 85 if I had tried it earlier in the night.
• 2004 Kanga Reserve, Cabernet Sauvignon, South Eastern Australia
Last wine of the night. It was black fruit forward, not surprising given its terroir, but was acidic on the finish. I would rate this a 81. John liked this more than the Cousino though.

I'm not going to review it, but I cooked with one of my favorite table white wines, Villa del Borgo Pinot Grigio. This is year in and year out such a great value wine. I especially enjoy it in the summertime, hanging out outside enjoying the wine. I'll review it in the future at some point.

Sunday, March 12, 2006

Meyer California Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon

We went to a Meyer Corporation event tonight that featured wines from the CEO's estate in Napa Valley. All I can say is WOW! Their Chardonnay was very complex and buttery without being overly oaked. I think we might have to write more about it later, but I'd say it was easily in the low 90s. The Cabernet was awesome. It was totally open right out of the bottle, but with the promise of more complexity to come with cellaring/aerating. I'd rate it 94 based on what we tasted, not far behind the Phelps Insignia. WOW, wow, double wow. What a great wine. Black fruit, beautiful tannin balance. Wonderful.

Rocca Delle Macie Grappa

This has to be the best grappa. I found it in Italy. More to follow. It's all gone now. Will have to replenish when we hit the boot again.

Spacca Napoli

In addition to Tagine, we also tried out another new restaurant Saturday, Spacca Napoli. Located at Sunnyside and Ravenswood, it looks like it's not open if you don't turn down Sunnyside.

Spacca Napoli is a cool little AUTHENTIC Italian pizzeria. We had calamari affogato (in a tomato, olive, caper sauce and quatro formaggi pizza. The place had a really realistic Italian vibe from the San Benedeto Pesche Iced Thé and San Pellegrino Limonata (not to mention Lacryma del Christo and Nino Franco Rustico Proseco by the glass) and pictures of Totó! Food was great. Location is great. We'll be back with friends. Awesome place. I'm sure Natalie will add more later.

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Trying Out Tagine

Near Rockwell & Leland in Lincoln Square

Out of a scale of four stars:
Food: 3
Atmosphere: 2
Price: 3
Would we go back: Yes.

With a bottle of wine in hand, we hopped in the car on a balmy March night to check out Tagine, a new Moroccan BYOB restaurant in the Rockwell corridor of the Lincoln Square neighborhood. Tagines, cone-shaped clay pots used for slow cooking meat and vegetables have been a hot item in the housewares industry for a couple of years now, so I thought it was a great concept for creating a restaurant. And, for wine lovers, BYOB is a great chance to enjoy wine you know you'll like at a price that's more in line with your budget. We brought the Rosenblum Syrah we'd just purchased at Binny's.

When we first arrived, one of the owners was at the door to greet patrons into the small space. The paprika-colored walls seemed just right, but unfortunately the lighting scheme was working overtime against any kind of charm. One fluorescent light was turned on in the back to illuminate the whole restaurant. And, of course, we were seated under that one light. Hopefully a successful start to this business will make it possible to replace the lighting as soon as possible.

Most importantly, though, the food was great. We both ordered Tangine-cooked entrees, although soup, salad, kebabs and cous cous dishes were also on the menu. Strangely enough, though, our dinners were not served in tagines. Another table we saw had them, but I think they ran out by the time we got there. But, service on an average white place didn't diminish the taste of the meal. I had the Oasis Tagine, a half-chicken slow roasted with olives, lemon confit and a ginger saffron sauce, accompanied by French fries. Soaking up the ginger saffron sauce, these thin American-style French fries may be the best fries I've ever had in my life (even topping the duck-fat fried fries at Hot Doug's, which is saying a lot.) Jeff had the Sultan's Tagine, but unfortunately the braised shank of lamb and artichokes were served on a large bed of spiced peas -- and Jeff doesn't like peas. But, we were able to share our meals (because I do like peas, and can say these were good) and it was a great way to get to taste two entrees. We also ordered the Vegetarian sampler as an appetizer, which included roasted green peppers, eggplant and cooked garlic spinach that were all wonderfully spiced. We ate the veggies on pita bread, along with our Moroccan salads, which came with the entrees. The salads included a lot of chopped cucumber, tomato and romaine lettuce, in a sweet vinegar-heavy dressing. Nothing too special about the salad, but it was fine. Each table is also served a dish of very spicy olives, and sliced carrots spiced with olive oil.

Overall I think Tagine has exciting food for an incredibly reasonable price. I just hope they are able to fine tune the restaurant into a truly amazing dining experience.

Note from Jeff: Before we publish this, I have to say that my entree could have been better. It was all peas (which I hate) and lamb with a little artichoke. I thought that I would come with some sort of starch (rice, cous cous), but alas did not. Menu descriptions and lighting (which Natalie mentioned) could be much better. I think it's worth another try, but there's work to be done.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

California Wine Extravaganza

Tonight Natalie and I went to our first wine tasting event at Binny's. It was a little overwhelming (i.e. crowded), but there were a lot of great wines that we got to taste (and buy). We had to hustle to get there, getting soaked in the rain in the process.

We rated the wines with a minus for those we didn't like, one star for good, two for very good and three for excellent. I'll run down the list in order with comments.

Three Stars
2003 Mumm Cuvee "M" — $15.99 — Wonderful strawberry fruitiness on the finish, not overly dry or sweet. Perfect balance. Can't wait to sip on a warm summer night. We bought two bottles.
2004 Rosenblum San Francisco Bay Zinfandel — $15.99 — Puts the jam in jammy. Shockingly fruity on the palette, but softens to a peppery complexity. We bought two. Great value. High alcohol content, but it didn't come through at all.
2003 Rosenblum Abba Vineyard Syrah — $18.99 — Also jammy. I preferred, though Natalie liked the Zin better. Nice.
N/V Merryvale Antigua 500ml — $34.99 — Great dessert wine. Hard to avoid splurging on this one, but we held strong. Moscato that competes with some of the better Italian Vin Santo's I've had.

Two Stars
2003 Chimney Rock Cabernet Sauvignon — $49.99 — Interesting berry/tannin relationship. A little too pricey.
2001 Katherine Kennedy Small Lot Cabernet Sauvignon — $65.99 — Nice, big Cab. Opened up pretty well. A little pricey. Better buys out there.
2004 Quady Elysium 375 ml — Great dessert moscato. Reminds me of Bonny Door Vin de Glacier. Color of whiskey. Dewberry.
2003 Dashe Zinfandel — $21.99 — Jammy, peppery.
2003 Chiarello Petite Sirah — $39.99 — Exciting wine. Dark, dark purple color. Well-balanced fruit.
2003 Stolpman Hilltop Syrah— $34.99 — Good syrah, black fruit forward. Would buy under $20, but a little steep.
2003 Andretti Sangiovese — $17.99 — Bought one. Great sangiovese that is fruitier than Italian sangioveses without being cloying. Would go well with Bucatina al'Amatriciana.
2002 Bennet Lane Maximus — $27.99 — Good value wine. Meritage-style. Almost bought a bottle, but were getting too many bottles. Insignia Jr.
2005 Groth Sauvignon Blanc — $14.99 — Pineapple, citrus. As good as the best I've tasted from New Zealand. Light, but not wimpy. Bought two bottles.
2003 Duckhorn Merlot — $46.99 — Natalie liked this one a lot.
2002 Anderson Conn Valley Cab. Sauv. — $49.99 — One of the better Cabs I tasted. Priced fairly. Black fruit, pepper, tannins...nice.
2002 Stag's Leap Winery Petite Sirah — $29.99 — Almost a three-star. Dark, garnet color. Good fruit.
2003 B.R. Cohn Silver Label Cab. Sauv. — $16.99 — Great price for a pretty good, complex Cab. Hmmm.
2002 Merryvale Starmont Cab. Sauv. — $22.99 — See Cohn. Similar wines.

One Star
N/V Mumm Cuvee Napa Brut — $15.99 on sale — Solid domestic champagne. Dry.
N/V Mumm Blanc De Noir — $15.99 on sale — Solid blanc de noir. Not too memorable.
2002 Charles Krug Cabernet Sauvignon — $19.99 — Decent Cab.
2004 Foxglove Chardonnay — $11.99 — Not overly oaked.
2003 Chariot Sangiovese — $11.99 — Good sangiovese. But not enough to unseat better, cheaper Italians like Antinori Santa Cristina.
2004 Au Bon Climat Pinot Noir — $20.99 —Is it just me, or did Sideways way overhype Pinot Noir? This is fine, but it seems like there's so much of this quality out there, at prices that could buy much better bottles of other varietals.
2001 Andretti Merlot — $20.99 — one of the best merlots I tasted.
2003 Fritz Russian River Pinot Noir — $26.99 — Good, not great, pinot.
2002 Robert Craig Mt. Veeder Cab. Sauv. — $46.99 — Wasn't very opened up yet. Could be good with more aerating.
2003 Davis Family Zinfandel — $26.99 — Good, not great.
2001 Rombauer Cab. Sauv. — $32.99 — Good, not great.
2004 Wild Hog Pinot Noir — $25.99 — OK.
2001 Baldacci Cabernet Sauv. — $39.99 — Pretty good. Almost the next level. Could be priced better. Good fruit and tannin relationship.
2003 Paraduxx — $44.99 — Strong wine. Zin and Cab blend.
N/V Scharfenberger Brut — $16.99 — Pretty good, champagne style. Not overly dry.
2004 Simi Sauvignon Blanc — $9.99 — good value, but not overly exciting.
2001 Teanna Red — $34.99 — Was so crowded at this table that I couldn't find out what grapes were in this one. Pretty good.

2003 Wild Horse Cabernet Sauvignon — $15.99 — Not very complex. We've had their Pinot Noir and enjoyed it, but this was kind of boring and tasted like its price.
2003 Terlato Syrah — $32.99 — BLAH!
2004 Terlato Pinot Grigio — $21.99 — Color of water. Double blah says Natalie.
2003 Sebastiani Cabernet Sauvignon — $13.99 — Not memorable.
2003 Calera Pinot Noir — $19.99 — Bad.
2004 Foxen Pinot Noir — $22.99 — Bordering on decent, but pretty boring.
2002 Seavey Cab. Sauv. — $69.99 — Does this have to aerate for a week to be decent? At this price, this wine should buy me dinner. Tannic, tight, could hardly finish. No fruit or complexity. Disappointing.
2002 Egelhoff Cab. Sauv. — $69.99 — Is there a trend at this year/price. Same critique as above.
2004 Saintsbury Chardonnay — $19.99 — Something not right here. Not corked, but close. Newspapery.
2003 Mer Soleil Chardonnay — $34.99 — Heard others raving about this. Was not impressed.
2001 Silver Oak Napa Cab. Sauv. Limited — $95.99 — Again, was tight, not open. Didn't play nice with palette. Needed to aerate. Call me in a week and we'll talk.
2004 Franciscan Chardonnay — $14.99 — Boring, oaky, blah!
2003 Robert Mondavi Napa Cab Sauv. — $20.99 — Boring.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Limoncello recipe

Our favorite after-dinner drink, or digestivo, is easily the Italian Limoncello. This is easier to find in the States than it once was, but it is still generally found in specialty shops or larger liquor stores. Even then, most of what they have is not very good. Limoncello is relatively simple to make, but requires a little patience.


One bottle (750 ml) Everclear
One bottle (750 ml) vodka (I would recommend a decent bottle, like Smirnoff, but nothing too extravagant)
20 organic lemons

Four cups sugar
Four cups water

Wash the lemons in hot water and clean with vegetable wash (organic and nontoxic) and scrub vigorously.
Rinse. Lemon peels are how you create the drink's flavor and color, so it is important that the lemons are clean. I found the vegetable wash at Whole Foods for pretty cheap (less than $3). I've found that nearly every lemon sold in a store is coated in food wax. You need to remove this wax as much as possible before you peel the lemons. I looked everywhere for lemons without wax (Trader Joe's, Whole Foods, local markets) without success.

Peel the lemons (retaining the peels for later) being sure not to peel any of the white part under the peel, otherwise known as pith.
Peeling is another key step. It is very easy to get the pith when peeling. You'll inevitably get some while you're peeling, but if you keep it at a minimum, you should be OK. The pith creates a bitter finish to the limoncello that you want to avoid. We used a super sharp, large-size vegetable peeler to get the peels off. Keep the peel in long strips to make it easier when you strain later. You can use a sharp knife if you're not afraid of losing a thumb. I've heard of others using a zester for this step, but I've found that to be prohibitively tedious, especially if you're doing a double batch, like I did with the last batch.

Put the lemon peels in a large glass container with the vodka and everclear.
I found a great, huge container at CostPlus World Market. Pier 1 has good containers, too. A suntea container could work, but the spigot leaked on the one I got from Jewel. Note: Some people will use only Everclear and some only vodka. I've found that a mixture is the best recipe. You're not so over the top alcoholic by using the Everclear, and vodka alone can be too low in the alcohol content, resulting in a limoncello that freezes in the freezer — which is where it is ideally kept. The higher alcohol content of Everclear prevents it from being diluted to the point where it freezes.

Swirl the lemon peel and alcohol mixture together daily in the jar.

This step can last for as little as two weeks or up to four months.
The longer you leave the peels in contact with the alcohol, the more yellow and lemony your limoncello will be. After two weeks, you'll likely get a limoncello as good as anything you can buy in a store for $20 or so. A little longer will get you the type of limoncello that you can find only in Italy in small shops on the Amalfi Coast (and on Capri) or in the freezers of Italian grandmothers throughout the country.

After you get to the point where you're ready to finish the limoncello, remove the bigger peels with a slotted spoon.
If you want to be especially frugal with your mixture, like I am, remove the peels to another container so that the "drippings" can be poured back into the larger container.

Once you've removed the bigger peels, you need to strain the entire mixture through coffee filters to remove as many of the impurities as possible. You can do this by putting the filters into funnels and straining that way. Note: If you pre-wet the filters with water, they won't absorb as much of the liquor mixture, reducing waste.

Meanwhile, you can be working on the sugar syrup. Mix the sugar and water. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Let boil for at least seven minutes.

Let syrup cool to room temperature, then combine with lemon-alcohol mixture.

At this point you can bottle using funnels. You should ideally let the limoncello "marry" together for a week in the bottle before consuming, but no one's going to fault you if you sneak a taste or two.

If you think that you're going to be making limoncello, start holding onto bottles, especially interesting, decorative ones. Limoncello makes a great gift that's homemade. If you want to stretch your limoncello stash and still spread the love, get miniature decorative bottles with swivel tops from Cost Plus World Market and fill those as the gift. You generally get two good shots from the bottle. My friend, Ed, and his wife gave these as wedding favors, which is the best idea ever. My pockets were full when I left the reception.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Fontaleoni Vernaccia di San Gimignano

We had this 2003 Fontaleoni Vernaccia di San Gimignano this evening with dinner (maple/madras mustard glazed pork chops, risotto-style orzo and spinach with lemon). We bought it at the Lakeview/Ivanhoe Binny's for less than $10. In fact, I think it might have been on sale for less than $6.

We love Vernaccia in the summer, and I like to have wines like this on hand as an "everyday" wine. We stayed just outside of San Gimignano on our honeymoon, so this style of wine will always be a sentimental favorite. San Gimignano is an unbelievably cute Tuscan hill town close to Chianti (and Sienna/Florence). It's known for their towers that jut out of the Tuscan landscape unlike any other town. It can be incredibly crowded with the tourist hoards during the day, but the tour buses leave by evening to leave a peaceful, quaint respite. There are several good restaurants in town and they all serve Vernaccia. It's hard to find a shop that doesn't sell their famous export. Vernaccia has become easier to find in recent years, thankfully, so you can always find a little slice of Tuscan summer bottled up for you. Although Italy is not necessarily known for their whites, this, along with Orvieto Classico and a few others, proves that is not always the case.

Taste Alone
The wine is surprisingly complex for such a cheap bottle. It had clean scents of lemon, crisp pear along with some minerality. The tartness of the citrus was still present on the finish, almost to the point of being overly tart.

Paired with Food
Very drinkable with the meal. The citrus softened, but paired well with the lemon in the spinach and sweetness of the maple. Spice notes came through, accentuated by the curry.

Indicative of classic Vernaccia, this wine is a great bargain under $10 and a great everyday wine. It offers interesting complexity but is food-friendly. 84 points

Wine Event at Binny's

I decided to start this blog because we have loved wine and food for some time and friends of ours recently started tastebudchicago, a cool blog that gives their ratings on things like wine and cheese. We recently went to Napa Valley and had a great time tasting wine from the bigger producers (Phelps and Coppola/Niebaum/Rubicon) and smaller vineyards (Arger-Martucci, Jessup and Kelham). This Thursday, we're going to be tasting 90 wines from the different viticultural areas of California at a special event at Binny's. More to come later.