Halloween Hoopla

Yes, it is that time of year! Pumpkins are everywhere, football weather is finally here, and the leaves are changing/falling. This is the time of year when I really appreciate living in a region with seasons. I love fall! And with Halloween only a couple weeks away, the seasonal paraphernalia is everywhere, even in the drink aisle. I love that too! So much so that the two drinks I’m featuring don’t have anything to do with wine. Say what?! Yes, folks, I’m willing to branch out for these fall-inspired items.

Drink option #1 – Seasonal Beers
Most of you probably know me as a beer warmer rather than a beer drinker, but even I can get excited by a good seasonal beer. This time of year, my two favorites are pumpkin beer and a German-inspired, wheat-based beer. Yum!  Since a six pack of beer can last me for a month or two, I was pleasantly surprised that my local gas station allows patrons to mix and match some craft beers on an individual bottle-basis, such as the ones I bought earlier this week (see picture). It only cost me $10 for a six pack of all those varieties, including two repeats on my part. I think that is pretty good value if you want to try several types of beer but aren’t a big beer drinker. Oh and in general, it appears that Qik ‘N EZ carries a solid beer selection, including Portland-based Rogue beers (in 6-pack form only for now), so see my post on Portland’s beer scene here if you want more info on Rogue. Also, if you want to find your perfect pumpkin beer, check out this post from 99 Bottles blogger Gary Dzen.

Drink Option #2 – Butterscotch Schnapps (preferably with chocolate chip cookies)
My mom needed a drink after work one day, so she pulled out a random bottle from the bar, poured a glass, and almost immediately started raving about ‘this ButterShots drink.’ As you can imagine, I was a little confused, as I couldn’t imagine a butter-flavored drink being something to rave about. However, come to find out, ButterShots is the brand name for DeKuyper’s butterscotch schnapps. I took a taste and immediately knew I had another viable option for an after-dinner drink. At only 15% alcohol (lower than many big reds like Zin), it is a relatively light dessert cocktail option, which can be appealing sometimes. Also worth highlighting, I paired the butterscotch schnapps with a chocolate chip cookie that had Halloween spirit and realized that I found a fabulous pairing with an American classic. Chocolate can be a tough food to pair with wine, and the brown sugar and butter-flavored cookie dough part of a chocolate cookie only adds to the challenge. Luckily, butterscotch’s main ingredients are brown sugar and butter, so that makes butterscotch-flavored schnapps a excellent complement to chocolate chip cookies (remember – like often goes with like in food/drink pairings). Give it a try – I think you might like it!

Cheers Dears,
The WWG

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WWG Primer: Washington State

With some friends recently traveling to Seattle for a work trip, I’ve been inspired to put that city and Washington State in focus this week. The timing to enjoy Washington’s best exports–its big reds– seems appropriate too, as early autumn is putting an extra crispness in the air. Apparently, my favorite wine store–The Corkscrew–had the same idea too, as the folks over there just featured a couple Washington State wines that look delicious. Guess I’ll have to go back and buy more Washington wines soon, and you may want to follow my lead at The Corkscrew or your local wine shop.

Here are the three major things you need to know about Washington wine:
1.) Big red varietals flourish in Washington State.
As the second most important wine-producing region in the U.S., Washington earned its reputation by producing stellar big reds, such as Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Syrah. These red grapes need lots of heat and sunshine. Sounds just perfect for the rainy weather of the Pacific Northwest, right? For a Midwesterner like me, it is hard to shake the image of cool, rainy weather that makes flannel shirts and warm cups of Starbuck’s coffee necessities in Seattle. But most of Washington’s grapes are grown far from Seattle, actually east of the Cascade mountains, which sits in a rain shadow. Rain shadows are created when mountain ranges cause disturbances in the atmosphere, leading to wetter climates to the west of the mountains and dryer climates east of the peaks. Washington State’s eastern region is a prime example of a rain shadow, and in the hot, sandy soils of the Columbia, Yakima, and Walla Walla Valleys, Washington’s big red varetals thrive.

2.) Washington Wine Quality = Elegantly Fruit Forward
As you may know, I’m not always a huge fan of Cabernet Sauvignon. In my opinion, Cabs risk being like a donut. You know, all acid up front and tannin in the back with nothing in the middle (the hole where fruit should be). However, about a year ago, I had a mind-blowing experience with a Washington State Cab where the fruit was abundantly present. In general, Washington State Cabs appear to offer Cab drinkers the total package in their youth. That differs from Cabs of other notable areas–like Bordeaux and even Napa–that can need extensive aging to coax out their fruit flavors and balance out the acid and tannins. Also maybe I’m becoming a light-weight, but I like that Washington reds aren’t particularly boozy, probably because the relatively cooler climate (than Napa or Paso Robles in California) doesn’t allow the grapes to ripen to the point of high booziness. I think the lighter alcohol content contributes to the elegance of many big reds from Washington. In fact, the two bottles I bought this weekend (a 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon from Barnard Griffin–$17 – 2010 vintage here - 2009 is at The Corkscrew–and a 2010 Merlot-based blend from 14 Hands – $12 here) feature less than 14% alcohol, which is the line I typically draw between moderate and high alcohol content for non-dessert wines.

Also, from The Corkscrew’s weekly email:
2010 Seven Falls Merlot $14.99 We tasted this wine with our supplier last week and were blown away by the quality! From the famed Wahluke slope in the Columbia Valley of Washington State this is a serious wine at an everyday price. Lush aromas of ripe plum and cherry are accented by notes of mocha and vanilla scented oak. This wine is full bodied, sleek and remarkably elegant, we had it open for several days and it held up very well with air.

2010 Chateau St Michelle Indian Wells Red Blend $19.99 Another killer red blend from Washington State, Indian Wells is one of their top vineyards and it is reflected in the beautiful quality of the fruit. 60% Merlot, 28% Syrah and smaller amounts of Cabernet, Grenache, Malbec, Cinsault and Mourvedre combine beautifully in  a sort of Bordeaux meets the Rhone style. This is a spectacular value in rich, complex red wine.

3.) Stay in Seattle for Solid Tasting Experiences
Say what?! I know, I just said that the good juice is produced in eastern Washington on the other side of the Cascade Mountains. Well, don’t fret if you only plan to visit Seattle. You can taste plenty of good vino there!  In fact, grapes that are grown in the eastern part of the state are often transported to Western Washington for the wine-making process, so it comes as no surprise that many Washington State tasting rooms are located in Seattle or in nearby Woodinville (just 20 miles from downtown Seattle, or 38 minutes away from downtown Seattle by my google maps app). According to www.gotastewine.com, Woodinville boasts over 90 wineries, tasting rooms, and wine bars, which you can explore here.  You know I’ll be checking out Woodinville the next (and first) time I’m in Seattle!

Oh and here are the recs I received for Seattle-proper – check out Anthony’s in Pike Place for seafood!  My friends loved the Hawaiian nachos, which sound awesome. And based on Yelp reviews, I want to check out The Tasting Room for wine flights in Pike’s Place.

Cheers Dears,
The WWG

 

 

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A Tuscan Twosome

With the weather turning chilly in the evenings, I’ve begun craving light reds rather than summery whites and roses. Tuscany’s key wine export–Chianti–qualifies as one of the most popular light reds on the planet. Amazingly though, I’ve had limited experience with this vino varietal, so I figured it was time to change that by comparing a traditional Chianti to a Super-Tuscan while also enjoying some Italian snacks. The biggest finding I made with this ‘experiment’ was that these wines are excellent complements to food! While not a very shocking finding, I know, I think these options are worth checking out when you are in the mood for a light red. Also, I hope this post demystifies some of the terminology on Italian wine labels.

A couple weeks ago, my favorite local wine shop featured a Super-Tuscan, the Nessun Dorma 2010 for $18 per bottle. Some of you may be asking - what the heck is a Super-Tuscan? In Italy, winemakers previously had to adhere to a traditional recipe to be called Chianti Classico in the highest-quality classification. This recipe included some white wine grapes that many winemakers bristled against a couple decades ago. At the time, winemakers who excluded those white wine grapes and chose to add international varietals, such as Merlot and Cabernet, to the traditional Sangiovese red wine grape were relegated to the lowest-quality rung on the Italian scale. But often, these bigger and bolder wines were viewed as higher quality than the wines that adhered to the traditional recipe, making them extraordinary, or Super-Tuscans as they came to be known. The recipe rules have become much less stringent since then, but the Super-Tuscan moniker persists to this day. In this bottle, you’ll find 50% Sangiovese, 30% Merlot, and 20% Syrah. In general, this relatively young wine was, not surprisingly, fruit forward with dark red cherry flavors. While both of the wines I tried were great with food due to the solid acidity (which is good for cutting fat and also offsetting acidity in food, such as tomato sauce), I’d note this wine as the one I’d be most likely to enjoy without food.

The second bottle I tried was a 2006 Chianti Classico from Pallazo Desti. You can’t see it very well in this picture, but it is of the highest order of quality in Italy -Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita. This 2006 vintage is definitely showing its age. The color of the wine in the glass is a rusty red to an orange rim. And I could smell dirt on the nose and taste bruised plums on the tongue when tasting the wine by itself. However, I was pleasantly surprised with the smoothness of the wine when I drank it with food. Actually, it was my preferred complement to the following tray of Salami, Pecorino Romano, and Sicilian olives. Yum! I picked up the Chianti ($16) and antipasto tray makings at Boccardi’s Italian Imports on the west side of Springfield, if you are in the area. I didn’t get a chance to sample any of their prepared Italian goods, but they looked delicioso, too.

Cheers Dears,
The WWG

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Tailgate Time!

With the NFL starting tonight and college football in full swing, it is prime time for finding ways to get your drink-on in the great outdoors. For wine drinkers, corkscrews, glass bottles, and cups make tailgating more difficult than it needs to be, in my opinion. So when I received an email from Aussie blogger Dan Traucki touting Stacked, I realized the answer to the great tailgating (picnicking, beaching, etc.) dilemma for wine lovers may have been found. So if you are looking for an easily portable, easily open-able, single-serve, and high-quality wine option, check this out!

Much like single-serve cans and bottles make beer easy to consume in nearly any environment, Stacked looks like an awesome alternative to the traditional bottle/glass option for wine drinkers. Stacked comes in the same size as a traditional wine bottle (750 ml).

However, the bottle is packaged into four separate glasses made of heavy-duty plastic.

All you have to do is snap off your individual cup and then peel off the the foil on top to enjoy a single serving of vino!

Stacked comes in Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, and Merlot varietals from California grapes.

While the Pinot Grigio was a little sweeter than I expected, each option was a solid representation of its varietal. Overall, Stacked offers good-quality wine in a highly convenient form. At $13 per ‘bottle’ plus shipping and handling through Liquorama, Stacked offers a good value, too. Hopefully, it will come to stores near me soon. I am a Stacked fan!

Cheers Dears,
The Wandering Wine Girl

 

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Value Wine and Cheese Pairing Alert

A few weeks ago, I enjoyed a wonderful wine-infused meal at Bin 36 in Chicago. It was such a lovely time, and I’d recommend that all of you go whenever you are in downtown Chicago. But this is not a post about Bin 36 – it is a post about a wine pairing it offered. This new-to-me pairing provides an alternative to sweet wines with cheese, which you can read about here. This dry wine was great with goat cheese and offers a great value as well!

The wine varietal in question is Colombard. Say what?! Yes, Colombard. I received it in a wine flight that complemented the creamy, mild goat cheese portion of a cheese flight at Bin 36. Yum! And I think it would have been great with the Snofrisk goat cheese I bought from The Corkscrew last spring. This mild-mannered wine offers a complementary intensity to the goat cheese. According to The Food Lover’s Guide to Wine, Colombard is a classic pairing with goat cheese, as well as Asian cuisine, fish, oysters, pasta, and salads. It also probably is descended from one of the key aromatic varietals, Chenin Blanc, so my nose should be pleased when I drink Colombard as well. Other more intense aromatics include Riesling, Gewurtztraminer, and Viognier. Colombard (and Chenin Blanc for that matter) just offers some of the same floral and fruity flavors (think citrus, apples, peaches, or tropical fruits) on the nose without beating you over the head. Apparently, many California wineries use Colombard for bulk white wines, so you may have already drank it without realizing. And the large supply of this grape means Colombard-based wines are often great values. I’m excited to take advantage of that value proposition in the future! In fact, just today, I purchased an $8 version of French Colombard (the typical white from the Cotes de Gascogne region of France) at The Corkscrew. I’m looking forward to giving this lightly aromatic wine a try to see if my second tasting of Colombard is as enjoyable as my first.

Cheers Dears,
The Wandering Wine Girl

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Distilling It Down

To my loyal WWG followers, I apologize for neglecting you!  It’s just been a busy few weeks – my day job, growing a year older, and selling my condo (yay!) got in the way. But I didn’t stop enjoying food/wine during that time, and I have several new post ideas in mind. I just need to write them down, so hopefully, we’ll be in regular touch going forward. First up, a recommendation for all you U of I alumni out there. If you are heading to CU for a football game this fall – check out this excellent downtown Champaign restaurant for a casually chic dining experience. I love Destihl! BTW, I just checked the restaurant’s website, and apparently they have a location in Normal, IL as well, so all you ISU alumni/State Farm employees, take note.

The first thing I noticed about Destihl was the fun and affordable wine list. Unlike many fine dining establishments, Destihl seems to take pride in giving diners choices rather than just the typical varietals. Thank you, thank you, thank you Destihl! Check out the list below. I think you will agree there’s something fun for everyone on it. Seriously, when’s the last time you saw Torrontes, Gewurtztraminer, Albarino, Rioja, or Carmenere on a wine list, let alone all of them on the same list? I was in heaven!

Then enter my main man, Joe.  Get seated in his section if you can! Joe’s an excellent server who always seemed ready with recommendations and consideration for his guests. He even pampered my pregnant girlfriend with a fun mocktail to keep her in the WWG-spirit. Overall, he clearly enjoyed helping us have a great time, and that’s really the best characteristic a server can possess, in my opinion.

But back to the food/drinks. Joe told us about the night’s wine and dinner specials, and I was immediately sold. For my blog regulars, you won’t be surprised that I ordered the Pianissimo Malbec-based Rose special with my meal. Typically a no-brainer for me, this red-fruit-filled, mildly acidic Rose was right up my alley on that 100ish degree day. Like most Roses, this one probably could have paired well with anything, and it was lovely with the night’s fish special of Amberjack (think of a cross between salmon and trout) with arugula and red pepper sauce. Fantastic! This wine also represents a great value, retailing at only about $10 per bottle here.

 

 

 

 

Then, it was time for dessert. Would Destihl be able to put an exclamation point on this great night out with friends? I won’t keep you in suspense – the answer was a resounding yes! Joe, of course, had a few recommendations for us. His all-time favorite dessert is the carrot cake, I believe, but he was really feeling the fresh berry napoleon and sour cherry bread pudding that night. So we went with those two items to share. Joe didn’t lead us astray (Joe wouldn’t do that!) First, I thought the napoleon was my favorite, but then, I’d take a bite of the bread pudding and be convinced that one was my favorite. Hmm??? Let’s just call it a tie!

To wash those desserts down, Destihl offered a Tawny Port. Many restaurants neglect dessert wines because they can go bad if left open for a few days. Tawny Ports (unlike even Ruby Ports) are different though. They can stay fresh in an unsealed bottle for at least a few weeks, making it possible for a restaurant to offer a flavorful product (a typical Tawny flavor profile includes nuts and caramel) while also generating a solid return on investment by serving many patrons over that period. This Tawny Port was lovely, especially with the bread pudding. I also really enjoyed drinking out of a snifter glass.

Overall, this meal was flawless from start to finish. Thank you, Destihl! I’ll be back. Even if it is just for a craft-brewed beer and a burger (they looked awesome too).

Cheers Dears,
The WWG

 

 

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Just Peachy Part II

Last week, two events made me want to revisit a topic that proved quite delicious last year. First, I ate an incredible peach! Juicy and sweet, I kept going back for more. Then, I noticed the following statistic in this Wine Spectator article: Moscato–yes, the grape that is responsible for one of my favorite sparkling wines–catapulted into the #3 position in U.S. white wines sold last year (behind Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio but ahead of Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling). Shocking, but not completely out of the realm of possibility given how refreshing Moscato d’Asti can be. And for those of you out there turning your nose up at this sweet, lightly sparkling wine, I would remind you that most Americans enjoy drinking another sweet, sparkling beverage–cola–too. So I wouldn’t be surprised if the Moscato trend has staying power. For those of you looking for a way to combine your summer peaches with the 3rd most popular white wine in the U.S., check out this spectacular dessert/wine pairing that I discovered last summer!

Fire up the grill (yes, I said grill) and get ready for a quintessential summer dessert with a light, refreshing wine. During my sommelier class last summer, my instructor introduced a wine/food pairing option of Moscato d’Asti and grilled peaches. I love Moscato d’Asti, and I love peaches. So soon, I was salivating during class, and rest assured, you will be salivating, too, if you try this simple food/wine pairing.

If you’ve never grilled a peach, which I hadn’t either before last summer, check out these recipes – from Doughing Rogue or All Salon. Or just grill ‘em up, sprinkle a little brown sugar and cinnamon on the fleshy part, and top with vanilla ice cream. It is like a mini-peach pie (but with much less work and no crust), and a glass of Moscato d’Asti makes the experience even more scrumptious.

In this case, I’d suggest Saracco Moscato d’Asti, which cost me $14.99 and I found for $14.29 on wine.com. A sweet sparkler, this wine goes light on bubbles (it is actually considered a semi-sparkler) and goes light on booze. The bottle only boasts 6% alcohol compared to 12% to 14% for normal table wine. Like most Moscato d’Asti’s, the wine is highly aromatic with many floral (think honeysuckle) and fruity (think peach) scents, so pairing it with peach desserts is almost a no brainer. Enjoy!

Cheers Dears,
The Wandering Wine Girl

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Trend Alert: Welcome to Cucumber Summer

My travel buddy in Cape Cod introduced me to a cucumber martini, and now, I can’t turn around without seeing recipes or menu items highlighting cucumber-based cocktails. With most of the country in a drought and experiencing near record heat, cucumbers can add a crisp, refreshing feel to your happy hour. Sweet tea vodka was so 2010; I’ve dubbed 2012 the Cucumber Summer! To be part of this trend, give these cucumber drink recipes a whirl.

Cucumber-Lime Pops with Gin – check out these frozen treats from Tim Love courtesy of Food and Wine Magazine.

Cucumber Lemonade Cocktails – from the Bikini Chef, Susan Irby.

Cucumber Vodka Tonic - here’s the WWG’s take on the cucumber trend!
- 2 Parts Cucumber-infused Vodka – I used the Effen brand, but there were a couple options, including one from SkinnyGirl, in my store that could have worked.

 

- 4 Parts Diet Tonic Water
- Splash of St. Germain liquor. Buy the little, airplane size bottles to conserve funds. This liquor will add a floral essence to your drink. Add as much or as little as you want.


- Sliced cucumbers for garnish.
- Ice

Fill up your cocktail shaker with vodka, St. Germain, tonic water, and ice. Shake, shake, shake. Pour into glass (with or without ice) and garnish with a cucumber slice. Enjoy!

Cheers Dears,
The WWG

 

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A Lobster a Day…

…keeps the doctor away? I’m pretty sure that’s not the saying – unless you are on Cape Cod like I was this past weekend! Yep, lobster has a spot on nearly every menu in this vacation spot just outside Boston and Providence. On Cape Cod for a friend’s wedding last Saturday, I had the pleasure of finding myself up to my eyeballs in lobster all weekend, and it was delicious! Besides lobster, I found a few other must-see options on the island. So if you are thinking about traveling to the Cape soon, check out these spots!

Here’s a fun map of the Cape to get you oriented. For the WWG, the first stop after driving about 2 hours from Boston-Logan airport was my hotel:
The Ocean View at Craigville Beach – This spot has three key assets – location location, location right on the beautiful, family-friendly Craigville Beach. Note to self for next time – splurge for a suite! I was jealous of my next door neighbor’s/friend’s 2 person suite (complete with kitchen, living room, and outdoor grill), which I believe was offered at the same rate as my own less-updated/less-spacious room. Overall though, this hotel boasts great views of the water, nice deck chairs, and a friendly staff with solid recommendations.

Lobster #1 - After getting checked in, the WWG was starving, so my travel buddy and I booked it to a beach shack about 50 yards up the beach for a lobster roll. This roll was the casual lobster option of the weekend, but it was fresh and well-cooked. Also, the shack used garlic toast for the roll, which I thought was a lovely touch. I also used a bit of tartar sauce on the lobster. WWG Pairing Suggestion for Lobster #1 = ice, cold beer.

Lobster #2 – This trip to the Cape was all about a beautiful wedding reception for one of my besties in the backyard of her groom’s childhood home. I should probably wax poetic about how much love was in the air, how many good friends were in attendance, and how much fun it was to meet my friends’ extended families. All of those were in abundance, but I know you want the details on the menu, so let’s cut to the chase on my first proper clambake! Here’s what we ate: clam chowder, steamers (clams so fresh we had to ‘wash’ off the sand), lobster, drawn butter (mmm…), corn, red potatoes, a sausage, and cupcakes!

WWG Pairing Suggestion for Lobster #2 = a buttery Chardonnay. Say what?! Regular WWG readers might do a double take here due to my previous post (I Hate Chardonnay, Right?), but there’s a pairing for everything. And a buttery Chardonnay can be a perfect complement to lobster with drawn butter because they are both full-bodied/full-textured options. The Chardonnay at the wedding was also great with the clam chowder, which knocked my socks off even in 85 degree heat.

The wedding reception started/ended early, but the after party lasted well into the wee hours. So it didn’t come as a surprise that my travel buddy and I slept in past 10am. With breakfast over in most places and a desire to grab lunch elsewhere, there was only one decision to make – ice cream for breakfast!  Since we arrived on the Cape, several locals had sung the praises of the Four Seas ice cream shop, which is just up the road from the Ocean View Motel in Centerville, Mass. This shop serves up old school ice cream in about 24 flavors daily and old school sandwiches on white or wheat bread. My buddy chose the mocha chip ice cream on the suggestion of our hotel desk clerk while I went with the maple walnut flavor. Both were crave-worthy!  In fact, I’m craving that maple walnut ice cream right now. Too bad, I’ve put on my ‘summer weight’ (too much BBQ, booze, and dessert already this summer – time to rein it in), and I’m on Phase I of the South Beach this week. Anyhoo - forget your diet on vacation and grab some excellent ice cream at Four Seas if you are nearby!

Lobster #3 – After Four Seas, we hit the road for Provincetown, which is at the end of the Cape. Provincetown is filled with art galleries, tourist shops, and gay-friendly attitudes. Since we were missing the best Sunday of the year (Chicago’s annual Pride parade), my travel buddy and I headed to Provincetown to dance with the ‘boys’ and ‘girls’. Since we’d need sustenance for the dancing, our first stop was Pepe’s for the ‘best lobster roll in town’. I opted for the South Beachiest lobster option, which was served with an arugula/tomato/lemony-vinaigrette salad. WWG Pairing Suggestion: the tart flavors in the salad went especially well with the tart flavors in the New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc I ordered.

Next, it was on to the Boat Slip for the 4 to 7 pm daily dance party. We passed by a variety of fun shops where I bought a teal, beaded, ‘statement’ necklace and my friend bought an awesome, hand-painted, ‘statement’ bowl. We also caught glimpses of the inviting water, which appears somewhat protected from the Atlantic currents and makes me think it is warmer than most waters of the Cape. But this was no day for swimming!  We needed to end the weekend with dancing at the Boat Slip and noshing on a slice of NY-style pizza. The perfect end to a picture perfect weekend :)

‘Lobster’ #4 – Except the weekend wasn’t over. After a great night’s sleep, we rose early and decided to grab some breakfast. The recommendation from our trusty hotel clerk was resounding. We just had to check out Centerville Pie Company, which has an ‘everybody knows your name’ feeling and has even been featured a couple times on Oprah’s favorite things list. No joke! For breakfast that morning, I went with a fantastic spinach/feta quiche, but I also noticed you can order a piece of pie on the side (even for breakfast.) I was thinking that a sweet fruit option might be nice, but apparently, the CPC is known for its savory pies. Now, I only learned of this fame after leaving the CPC, so I am intrigued. Apparently, their chicken pies are the ‘lobsters’ of all chicken pot pies, meaning they are the best of the best. Hey, anything Oprah and Gayle love has to be good, right?! You can order the pies online, so check them out if you are a big chicken pot pie fan; please note, there are no veggies in this one.

Cheers Dears,
The WWG

 

 

 

 

 

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Reapings from an American Harvest

What are you looking for in a fine dining experience? This week, I enjoyed a dinner out at American Harvest Eatery in Springfield, Illinois. If you have the opportunity to try it, please go. It really is a treat! After that experience though, I noted a few things I love in fine dining experiences and some things that could use improving.

First, what I love about American Harvest is its seasonally-inspired menu, which changes based on what the chef views as freshest/best in the area. As a person who gets bored easily, I like the idea of restaurants switching up their menus. On this occasion, my dining buddy and I enjoyed a beet and goat cheese salad, trout served with lima beans, and elk over a pea puree. Summer, summer, summer. Yum, yum, yum!

Although in the Midwest, this menu reminded me a lot of the fine dining experiences I had in Vail a couple years ago. High quality, fresh ingredients and delicious purees abounded in Vail and at American Harvest. After three outings at this Springfield restaurant, I can attest to its prowess with savory dishes! Check out the menus from my previous Corkscrew-sponsored experiences at American Harvest – one was a Spanish wine event and the other was an Argentina wine event. And if you are looking for a special lunch or dinner out, give it a try!  I think you will enjoy it.

I also love that American Harvest offers a tasting menu with wine pairings. In this case, though, the chef offered me too many choices. I just wanted him to bring me what he thought was best that evening, but I had to pick through a few options on each course. Since I was doing the choosing any way, I just made my own tasting menu from all the options with an app, entree, dessert, and wine pairings.

For wine, I chose the Kunde Sauvignon Blanc (with the beets and trout) and Parducci Pinot Noir (with the elk and dessert) both of which were $6 per glass. The Kunde Sauvignon Blanc was rich and tropical for the varietal. From the winemaker – “Vibrant and fresh, our Magnolia Lane delivers everything you expect from this classic favorite, but with a fresh mineral quality that is so appealing.  Aromas of mango and guava fill your glass while subtle flavors of white peach and grapefruit grace your palate.” -Zachary Long. If you are looking to buy a great S.B., check out this Kunde offering for only $17 per bottle here.

The Parducci Pinot was also impressive, especially for the price. Is this the answer to my Mission Impossible post from last week??? From the Parducci tasting notes – “Our Pinot Noir offers aromas of juicy, ripe raspberries and strawberries.  Its berry flavors are full and rich on the palate, picking up a hint of cedar on the finish.” At only $12 per bottle here, bring me a Parducci Pinot any time :)

While those wines were lovely and economical, I couldn’t help but wish for a Rose. It seems taboo in most U.S. restaurants, but all you fine dining restaurants out there — please, please, please give me a dry Rose option by the glass, especially in the summer! It would have been perfect at American Harvest, which was offering some kick-butt pork dishes. Based on my experience last fall at the Purple Pig in Chicago, I know they probably would have rocked with a dry Rose. On that occasion, I wrote the following about the rose and pork dishes I consumed that night – “The wine highlight of the evening for me was the pink option. The Purple Pig served up a Bieler Pere et Fils Rose. This dry wine from Provence retails for about $11 per bottle here at winegems.net and is a fantastic blend of Syrah, Grenache, Cinsault, and Cabernet Sauvignon. The Rose held its own beautifully with a wide variety of foods including manchego cheese, brussel sprouts, a marinara-based smear on toast, fried pig ears, and a pork shoulder over mashed potatoes. The French really know what they are doing when it comes to wine and food pairings. While most Americans can’t help but think of the too-sweet White Zins from the ‘80s when thinking of pink wines, a well-done rose remains a staple on many French tables because it can complement most meal components from start to finish. OK, I still want a dessert wine with my sweets, but drinking a rose from app to entrée would suit me on most occasions.”

Speaking of dessert, I’m not usually a negative nellie, but I have yet to experience a fabulous dessert at American Harvest. Maybe I’m being brought/ordering the wrong things, but since I think great meals need a great ending, dessert has been the one area of disappointment for me at this restaurant. This week, my hazelnut chocolate panini just wasn’t juicy enough for me to order again. I think it either needed a sauce or less bread to put the crave-able, exclamation point on the end of the meal that I want from a dessert. I’ll keep trying, but I’m hoping for more out of dessert from American Harvest in the future.

Cheers Dears,
The WWG

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