Monthly Archives: June 2011

Lip Stinger

29 June 2011

I helped staff a booth at a local street festival this past weekend, and though I appreciate the work of the organization, I knew their cocktail selection would likely be suspect. So as not to be stuck with the cheap vodka and imitation lemonade of years past, I perused my wine collection for something inexpensive, bright and cheery (and not too alcoholic — it was barely noon).

I found just what I was looking for in a bottle of 2009 La Chapelle de la Bastide Picpoul de Pinet. After chilling it for 45 minutes in the freezer, I tossed it in my backpack and hopped on my bike.

The cocktail selection in the booth proved as dire as my predictions: Vodka and Sierra Mist. Hardly the worst mixture one could concoct, but it exuded a whiff of frathouse improvisation. I opened my Picpoul.

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Honeysuckle and Tobacco

23 June 2011

Before some friends came over to dinner the other night, they thoughtfully called to offer to bring a bottle of wine. I planned on making some Southeast Asian-inspired dishes, which always seem to cry out for Gewürztraminer. I have a soft spot for floral, aromatic whites, and a good Gewürztraminer can work wonders with fresh herb-heavy Lao, Cambodian and Thai recipes.

My friends obliged with a 2009 Robertson Winery “Special Late Harvest” Gewurztraminer (they spell it without the umlaut) from South Africa, far from the varietal’s most well-known home of the Alsace. I’d sampled German, Australian, French, American and even Spanish Gewürztraminers, but never one from South Africa. I was intrigued, but concerned that “Special Late Harvest” might just be a fancy way of saying “cloyingly sweet.”

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North Bass, Middle Bass, South Bass

19 June 2011

“Bass,” whether North, South or Middle, is not a name commonly associated with wine. Nor is Lake Erie, for that matter, but it wasn’t always so.

I’ve recently been reading History in a Glass: Sixty Years of Wine Writing from Gourmet, a fascinating compendium of wine articles written between 1941 and 2004 for the now unfortunately defunct magazine. The early pieces, mostly written by Frank Schoonmaker, provide an eye-opening glimpse into the state of post-Prohibition wine in the United States.

The Napa and Sonoma Valleys ranked as the top wine-producing districts, along with some other familiar California names, but there was no mention of Washington or Oregon. Instead, I was surprised to see Mr. Schoonmaker list the Lake Erie Islands as a top wine region:

The important wine-producing districts of the East, the South, and the Middle West can all be numbered on the fingers of two hands. Outstanding in point of quality is, perhaps, the Finger Lakes region of Western New York State, closely followed by the Lake Erie Islands district, north of Sandusky, Ohio. –Gourmet, June 1941

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A New Frontier – Part 4

17 June 2011

Our explorations of Serbian drink were not confined to wine. Mr. Goran Sevic of importer Vino et Spiritus brings a number of spirits into the United States, including loza (Serbian grappa), brandy and slivovitz. (You can read a previous post about slivovitz here.)

I briefly felt concerned that hard alcohol might not agree with my stomach, still recovering from a bout of food poisoning, but after tasting six wines, some sremska sausage and a stalk of green garlic, I decided to just go for it.

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A New Frontier – Part 3

14 June 2011

In addition to the wines from Ivanović and Botunjac, which come from the Zapadna Morava region of Serbia, we tried two wines from the town of Vršac in Banat. This northeastern wine region (once the largest in Europe) has produced wine since at least the 15th Century, and likely much longer. Vineyards decorate the town’s 1804 coat of arms, as does a sword flinging a bleeding, severed head. Clearly this is a wine region to be reckoned with.

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A New Frontier – Part 2

11 June 2011

After tasting two unique and delicious Serbian varieties, I was excited to see what some of this country’s most thoughtful winemakers could do with more well-known grapes. Could they hold their own on the international market?

The 2009 Botunjac ”Rasplet” Reserve Riesling certainly could. It seemed hardly believable that this dry, character-rich wine came from the same variety that ends up in Schmitt Söhne. A very pale gold, this Riesling had a rather alcoholic nose of apples, and rich, musky-dusky flavors of pear with a touch of resin and a whisper of yeast. I have never visited Serbia, but I have to imagine the rich, dry and stylistically unusual Rasplet to be very expressive of its terroir. It worked wonderfully with smoky, slightly spicy Serbian sremska sausage.

The vintner, Kosta Botunjac, certainly takes great care making his wines. He comes from a family of dedicated winemakers; while in a German POW camp in 1942, his grandfather Dragomir managed to send a postcard home with instructions for making the Pinot Noir. (more…)

A New Frontier – Part 1

9 June 2011

Since the 2007 Jović Vranac currently stands as the highest-rated wine on this (newish) blog, I was delighted when the importer, Goran Sevic of Vino et Spiritus, invited me to taste more of his Serbian wine portfolio. It’s rare to find even one bottle of Serbian wine — wine regions like Banat, Timok and Zapadna Morava don’t leap readily to the tongue — let alone have the opportunity to taste several all together. Fortunately the food poisoning I’d experienced the day before the tasting abated, and I paid Mr. Sevic a visit.

We couldn’t be expected to taste all this wine on an empty stomach, a most hospitable Mr. Sevic declared, and he produced a beautiful board of Serbian sremska sausage, Serbian pancetta, Italian sausage, Jarlsberg cheese and slices of baguette. Unsure how my almost entirely empty stomach would respond, I started with a bit of baguette. Reassured by my gastric non-reaction, I sampled the first wine.

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The Second-Most Aristocratic Sangria

6 June 2011

Sangria my not be the oddest thing I’ve discussed on this blog, but it’s undeniably unusual to find really high-quality sangria. Indeed, “high-quality sangria” may seem like an oxymoron to those accustomed to flabby, sugared-up red wine swirled with some mealy apples and orange peel. But sangria can be a wonderful and even complex drink, worth making with care.

Vincent Astor made perhaps the most infamously high-quality sangria in history. According to Eric Felten, writing for the Wall Street Journal in 2007, “Astor was known to astonish waiters by asking for a bottle of Dom Perignon, a bottle of 1947 La Tâche (one of the great vintages of that fine Burgundy) and then instructing them to mix the wines together with cucumbers and plenty of fruit to make the most aristocratic of Sangrias.”

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Dining On The Donald

2 June 2011

The Terrace at the Trump boasts arguably the best views in Chicago, with a 16th-floor panorama encompassing architectural icons such as the Wrigley Building, the Tribune Tower and the Jewelers Building. It features a “Polynesian Chic” theme, expressed with attractive black patio furniture, some colorful pillows, a few stalks of bamboo and a handful of windblown palm trees.

What it does not feature, unfortunately, is an exciting by-the-glass wine list. A rosé cava briefly caught my attention, but one could buy almost two bottles of the stuff for the $18 the Trump charges for a glass. Similarly off-putting price tags weighed down the other choices. Enjoy that glorious view, because you’re paying for it.

Finding little on the wine list to tempt our palates, we opted for two “Divine Nectars” (otherwise known as cocktails), the Huahine Basil ($18) and the Coconut Castaway ($23). The former, an attention-grabbing mix of Hum Botanical Spirit, ginger beer, fresh ginger and basil, tasted delicious. An unusual, locally made 70-proof liquor, Hum is composed of pot-still rhum infused with hibiscus, ginger root, green cardamom and kaffir lime (pot stills produce more robust flavors). I taste the cardamom and ginger most strongly in this spicy liquor.

In the Huahine Basil, perhaps a riff on the classic Moscow Mule, the Hum really took over, and I could taste little else. Nevertheless, the spirit’s flavors are complex enough on their own, and I didn’t really mind. Huahine, incidentally, is an island in French Polynesia, the name of which apparently translates as “women’s sexual organ,” according to the “Legends” section of Pacific Blue Adventure’s website. A cocktail name this classy could hardly be an accident.

I’ve now exhausted my positive comments about The Terrace at the Trump. If you plan to go and sip a delightful Huahine Basil cocktail as you gaze at some of the world’s most beautiful architecture, captivatingly honey-colored in the early evening sun, stop reading. Those who enjoy reading tales of shockingly overpriced, uninspired cuisine should by all means continue.

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