Monthly Archives: May 2011

A Meeting Of Rivals

31 May 2011

There may be an almost countless number of wine regions gracing the globe, but Bordeaux remains arguably the most important benchmark of quality. It wasn’t always so, of course. The Loire Valley once held that title, its river serving as an easy trade route into the Atlantic, from which cargoes of wine swung north to thirsty Holland and England.

That all ended in the 12th Century, when Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry II favored Gascony with generous excise tax privileges, ensuring that “…Gascony became the most important supplier of the English court and London society,” according to André Dominé’s Wine.

The Loire Valley’s still wines have languished in the shadow of Bordeaux ever since, and to the north, the sparklers of Champagne continue to eclipse Loire bubblies. But again, “Saumur producers claim to have been in the fizz business long before the Champenois.” (Alice King, Fabulous Fizz.)

(more…)

Share

Sometimes You Just Need A Margarita

27 May 2011

As I put the finishing touches on a giant pile of enchiladas, I mentally catalogued my wine inventory, trying to decide what might make a good pairing.

The enchiladas were a little complicated. I stuffed corn tortillas with brown rice, red peppers, caramelized onions and chorizo, and topped them with Chihuahua cheese and a homemade salsa of tomatillos, toasted pepitos, garlic, jalapeño and fresh epazote.

I’m sure I could have come up with something that would have worked, but as I stuffed my 14th tortilla, I decided the heck with it. I’m making a margarita.

A margarita, of course, could hardly be considered unusual or obscure, especially when made with distressingly fluorescent “sour mix,” a chemical concoction of corn syrup and alien-green food dye. What, then, would make for an Odd Bacchus-worthy version of the cocktail?

(more…)

Share

Salty & Sweet

25 May 2011

Every now and then I treat myself to some saltimbocca, that classic Italian recipe in which a protein (usually chicken, pork or veal) is sautéed in sage-infused butter, wrapped in prosciutto and crisped in the oven. The rich butter, aromatic sage and salty prosciutto work wonders together.

Inspired by the succulent version I’d eaten at The Purple Pig (see the review here), I whipped up some chicken breast saltimbocca accompanied by asparagus, ramps and baby artichokes sautéed in olive oil and tossed with lemon zest. To pair with the salty, umami-rich chicken, I wanted something on the sweeter side, ideally with a touch of green to work with the spring vegetables.

I found just what I was looking for in a 2009 Huff Kerner from Germany’s Rheinhessen region. This expansive area south of Mainz has a bit of reputation mending to do — it’s the home of cloying Liebfraumilch, insipid Blue Nun and many a flabby Oppenheimer Krötenbrunnen “Qualitätswein.”

(more…)

Share

It’s Italian! Or — Spanish? No…

22 May 2011

Recently I walked into Evanston’s southerly Whole Foods expecting to buy just a few groceries, but I discovered a deal too good to pass up:  20% off cases of wine, including wines already on sale. I nearly cleaned the place out.

One oddball that caught my eye was an organic Barbera with a Spanish name: Pircas Negras (roughly “black stone wall”).  Reduced from $13 to just $8 after all the discounts, I could hardly pass it up.

Barbera first appears in the historical record as “barbexinis” in 13th-century contracts leasing the local vineyards of Casale Monferrato in Italy’s Piedmont region. The varietal still features prominently in the region, giving its name to three DOC areas: Barbera d’Asti, Barbera d’Alba and Barbera del Monferrato (unfortunately the latter can be more difficult to find in the U.S.).

What was this Italian varietal doing with a Spanish name? The Pircas Negras hails not from Piedmont but from La Rioja. But not that La Rioja.

(more…)

Share

(Purple) Porcine Pleasures

19 May 2011

I almost never dine near North Michigan Avenue, that famed Chicago strip so favored by deep dish-seeking tourists and overpriced restaurants. It was therefore with some skepticism that I approached The Purple Pig, a relatively new Spanish/Mediterranean hot spot set right in the heart of the beast: 500 North. But I wanted something a little fancy for my birthday, and I’d heard from a very trusted palate that it was “terrific.” And, well, it was.

Always thinking of my readers, I took copious notes about the experience (though it must be said their legibility and coherence deteriorated with distressing rapidity).

(more…)

Share
Next Page »