Monthly Archives: March 2012

Blauburgunder For Everyone!

31 March 2012

Although Austrian wines such as Grüner Veltliner continue to become more popular, finding a bottle of Federspiel Riesling or Sankt Laurent can take some doing. I was therefore rather excited to see that Austria Uncorked will be hosting an all-Austrian wine tasting on April 19th at Venue One (1044 W. Randolph Street, Chicago).

It’s rare in this country to have the chance to sample a whole range of Austrian wines side-by-side, and I certainly plan on taking advantage of the opportunity. The tasting costs $75 or $125 for a VIP ticket, but if you use the promo code “Bacchus”, you will get a $25 discount. The tasting runs from 6:30 to 9:00 p.m., but those with the extra-fancy VIP tickets can arrive at 5:30 p.m.

It’s not inexpensive as wine tastings go, but proceeds from the event will benefit a local charity project in Chicago, Common Threads, which teaches low-income children to cook wholesome and affordable meals to prevent childhood obesity.

I’ll drink to that. Prost!







The Flower Of The Cane

28 March 2012

Although Americans tend to associate Nicaragua with civil war more than fine spirits, this now-peaceful country produces one of the world’s greatest rums: Flor de Caña.

This company dates back to 1890, but it didn’t start producing rum called Flor de Caña until 1937. The revolutionary years in the 1980’s turned out to be a blessing in disguise. The Sandinistas didn’t have the best reputation for protecting private property rights, to put it charitably, so to safeguard their stocks of rum, Flor de Caña sent many of their best barrels to neighboring countries. By the time Flor de Caña could finally repatriate their spirits without fear they would be confiscated by the government, they had their hands on some of the largest and finest stocks of aged rum in the world.

While staying on an island in idyllic Lake Nicaragua, I ordered a glass of the 18-year-old Flor de Caña. Seeing my interest in the rum (or perhaps noticing my notebook), the bartender asked if I would like to sample range of different ages. Why yes, yes I would. The couple from San Francisco next to me certainly had no objection, and we began our impromptu tasting.

Flor de Caña 4-Year Extra Lite: This clear rum has a lower alcohol content (35% instead of 40%), making it easy to sip on its own (though Flor de Caña recommends using it in a Macuá, the delicious Nicaraguan national cocktail of rum, guava juice, orange juice and lemon juice). I liked its fruity aroma and surprisingly dry, smooth flavor.

Flor de Caña 7-Year Grand Reserve: This caramel-colored, barrel-aged rum has more of a vanilla aroma, complemented by some additional light oak on the palate. Again, enjoyable on its own, and as the Flor de Caña website notes, it makes a mean mojito (thoroughness demanded I try one).

Flor de Caña 12-Year Centenario: The most famous Flor de Caña rum, and the most readily available in the United States, the 12-year is worth seeking out. It smelled of oranges, vanilla and caramel, and its taste reminded me of a fine Cognac: spicy oranges, ripe bananas and a finish of vanilla. Smooth, but big and spicy.

Flor de Caña 18-Year Centenario Gold: This gorgeous rum sucked me in with aromas of vanilla cake and crème brûlée and sealed the deal with flavors of vanilla, oak and orange peel. Very rich, with a finish that went on and on.

I tottered back to my room a very happy blogger.

The Curse Of The Autograph

24 March 2012

I routinely fail to take my own advice, and despite my previous exhortations, I still have a number of ancient, moldering bottles of wine and spirits crying out to be drunk. At this point, some bottles have been kept so long, it seems almost inconceivable to actually open them.

In a rare moment of willpower, I overcame my wine hoarding tendencies and brought a 2001 Guy Buffet Cabernet Sauvignon home to drink with my parents. I’d been holding on to this bottle since May of 2004, subjecting it to numerous non-air-conditioned summers. I know the exact month and year of purchase because this bottle was signed by Guy Buffet himself. Hence my inability to open the damn thing until now.

Signed bottles may be charming — even meaningful — but they are a curse as far as I’m concerned. In this case, I didn’t even know Mr. Buffet. He signed the bottle to me, but his message of “Cheers” held little significance. Even so, this signature, a mere scribble with a gold marker, prevented me from opening the bottle. My heavens, what if the bottle was worth something? What if someone out there was dying to get their hands on a poorly stored bottle of Cabernet that said, “To Rob, Cheers, Guy Buffet”? How could I possibly consider opening it and enjoying it? (more…)

El Jicaro

18 March 2012

I’ve been a little off my usual posting schedule this week, while I’ve been investigating the natural and cultural treasures of Nicaragua. Currently, I’m overlooking a little boulder-strewn horizon pool at Jicaro Lodge, a gorgeous eco-lodge on its own islet in Lake Nicaragua.

I dutifully sampled the local Jicor jicaro liqueur, distilled from jicaro pulp and mixed with sugar and water (jicaro trees produce hard, coconut-like fruits). It was not particularly to my taste, with a flavor of medicinal bananas.

In the lodge’s El Jicaro cocktail, a mix of Jicor, club soda, sugar syrup, grama tea and lime served in a jicaro nut with a bamboo straw, it overpowered absolutely everything.

In the unlikely event you enjoy medicinal bananas and also come across a bottle of jicaro liqueur, by all means, go for it. But I think I’ll keep to the superb local Flor de Caña rum instead.

Estate Ultra Bar

15 March 2012

I must admit I didn’t have especially high expectations when I RSVP’d to the opening party of Estate Ultra Bar. The name seemed just a touch too over the top, and I imagined an over-designed lounge that would be all flash and no substance.

It was a pleasant surprise, therefore, to find an attractive riverside space offering a range of tempting and unusual cocktails. In between bites of impressively beefy sliders and decadently delicious lobster “mac ‘n’ cheese,” I sipped the mojito-like Estate Cocktail, the house drink. Raspberry and pomegranate purées were muddled together along with mint (and ginger?), and mixed with Grey Goose vodka and club soda. I really liked the rather tart fruit flavors mixed with the herbs — a most refreshing and tasty drink.

I chatted with the bartender Blake for a bit, and it turns out this self-effacing fellow not only makes a mean cocktail, he’s also one of the investors. He told me that he’s happy to make customized drinks for people, and if someone doesn’t know exactly what they want, he’ll get a sense of the things they like and whip something up.

I wanted to give this a try, so I confided my Odd Bacchus identity and asked for something unusual. He came up with a delightful, well-balanced cocktail that tasted like a light, tart and fizzy cherry pie. The combination of Effen Black Cherry Vodka, lemon juice, club soda and a splash of cherry juice (garnished with a real brandy-soaked cherry — not some fluorescent maraschino) would be an excellent quaff on a terrace in the summer.

Speaking of which, Blake alerted me that Estate Ultra Bar has the largest roof terrace in Chicago, boasting fantastic river and skyline views. The location on Elston and Diversey might be a little out of the way, but I might be making a few detours once the weather warms up (which looks to be sooner rather than later).

Next time I visit, I am going straight for the Pickle Martini.

Orange Jigger and Rose Lemonade

10 March 2012

What bloggers want you to believe happens.

I’ve long been a fan of Fentimans Tonic, but it was only a few days ago I had the opportunity to try some of their other “Botanically Brewed Beverages.” While shopping at Whole Foods, I happened upon four-packs of Mandarin & Seville Orange Jigger and Rose Lemonade — on sale. How could I pass them up?

The intriguingly opaque orange soda and slightly pink rose lemonade each taste quite fine on their own. If you have a non-drinker coming to your home, I’m sure they would be delighted to have one of these instead of some high-fructose corn syrup bomb like Coke (or a chemical stew like Diet Coke). Be sure to serve it in a glass, so that the aromas can be enjoyed.

But I would be remiss in my duties as Odd Bacchus if I didn’t give you at least a few ideas for alcoholic beverages as well. Since I hadn’t worked with these sodas before, I wasn’t sure what booze would pair best with each. Vodka obviously works OK, but what about something with a little more flavor? An experiment seemed to be in order.

I gathered bottles of gin, rhum agricole (rum with a bit higher proof than normal), tequila and Cognac. In order to keep things fair, I used the same proportions for each alcohol: 1 part alcohol and 3 parts soda. Let’s begin.


The Tasting Room – Part 2

7 March 2012

The Slovenian Furmint may have left me a little flat at The Tasting Room (see the previous post), but a Portuguese red blend certainly got my attention. The fun 2009 Quinta de la Rosa “douROSA” from the Douro Valley enticed me with its aroma of dark fruits, and sealed the deal with flavors of bright, ripe red fruits and a spicy finish. ($5.50 for a three-ounce pour, $11 for six.)

Quinta de la Rosa occupies what looks to be a spectacular piece of the Douro River’s bank in northern Portugal. This family-owned vineyard and winery seems to be known more for its port than its unfortified wines, but certainly the douROSA can hold its own. A blend of Touriga Nacional, Touriga Francesca, Tinta Barroca and Tinta Roriz (varieties also used in port), the douROSA is aged in stainless steel, which perhaps accounts for the delightful brightness of its flavors.

I’ve long thought Portuguese wines represent some of the best values out there, and this wine certainly did nothing to change my mind.

We moved a little further east with a 2009 Finca Tobella “Negre” from Spain’s Priorat region. According to The Oxford Companion to Wine, “One of Spain’s most inspiring red wines”comes from this “isolated DO zone in Cataluña inland from Tarragona.” And who am I to argue? This blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Carignane and Grenache (Garnacha) smelled of blackberries and oak, and tasted simply delicious. Powerful but restrained, this Priorat presented an elegant balance of tannins and acid. ($6.75 for a three-ounce pour, $13.50 for six.)

The sparkling 2010 Villa M Brachetto from Piedmont, Italy, disappointed, with pleasant but simple and too-sweet flavors of tart strawberries. ($5.00 for a three-ounce pour, $10 for six.)

I had eyed Stratton Lummis’s “The Riddler,” a red Napa blend of undisclosed varieties, but avoided it as not unusual enough. Let that be a lesson to me: I tasted my dining companion’s glass, and it was delicious. A big and tasty wine, with rich flavors of cherries, tobacco and cocoa. $6.25 for a three-ounce pour, $12.50 for six.

This probably isn’t news to you, dear reader, but sometimes I have to remind myself that unusual does not necessarily mean better.

The Tasting Room – Part 1

3 March 2012

We Chicagoans are blessed with an array of fine wine bars, such as In Fine Spirits, Webster’s and Avec. One of my favorites, The Tasting Room, boasts not only an intriguing by-the-glass wine selection, but also beautiful views of the city’s skyline. On my last visit, it was the Sears Tower I contemplated out the second-floor windows, not the Willis, so a return trip was certainly long overdue.

Some old friends and I met up on a clear Thursday evening, arriving early enough to score a plum table by the windows. I perused the wine list, planning my strategy for the evening. A number of unusual and obscure options tempted me, but there was no question what my first drink of the evening would be: a non-vintage (NV) Eric Bordelet “Poire Autentique” from France’s Pays d’Auge region (part of Normandy). This sparkler comes from pears, not grapes.

Monsieur Bordelet, a former sommelier, presides over bio-dynamically farmed orchards of heirloom pear and apple trees, some of which date back to the 18th century. As many as 15 different kinds of pears go into this light yellow/green sparkling cider, which has a mere 4% alcohol content, making it quite easy to drink. Its powerful aroma of ripe, golden pears sucked me right in, and I was impressed by the elegantly tiny bubbles (though there were so many of them as to make it almost foamy). It tasted sweet, acidic and, of course, peary, but the cider finished surprisingly dry. $5 for a three-ounce pour or $10 for six.

I also couldn’t resist trying the 2010 Verus Furmint from Štajerska, also known as Slovenian Styria. I’ve long had a fondness for Slovenian wines, and Slovenia, for that matter, but this glass turned out to be a bit of a disappointment. The Oxford Companion to Wine calls Furmint a “fine, fiery white grape variety,” but this fruity, tart wine felt rather flabby, with a watery, slightly chalky finish. It livened up nicely with food, but all in all, it seemed to lack structure. I may have sampled a bottle that had been open too long — noted wine critic Jancis Robinson lavished praise on the 2007 Verus Furmint in this article, which also relates the fascinating story of the company. $5.50 for a three-ounce pour, $11 for six.

Some delicious reds would soon overshadow this small disappointment, but that’s for another post…