Sunday, July 19, 2015

Summer Series: A Tale Of Two Whites

I've been doing some spring cleaning this summer, going through my whites and drinking the ones that have a few years under their belt. Most white wines lack the same aging potential as reds.

This week I came across two gems from my wine travels. For me to ship or stash a bottle in my suitcase, it has to be something special, something that would be extremely difficult for me to get in Florida, or impossible if not at the winery.

Mendel was a great stop on a recent trip to Mendoza, Argentina and one of only a small handful of wineries that produces a 100% semillon wine. This grape is typically used for blending, often with sauvignon blanc. On its own at this winery, I thought it was something special, special enough to pack and pass through customs.

I found the 2012 in my stash, chilled it, put in a wine bag and brought it with me for a lunch with my travel companion, wondering how it had aged. Much to my disappointment it had lost its luster, but I could still taste a bit of what it once was. I put the cork back in and took it home to use in some dressings and other dishes. I just couldn't let it go.

Another type of grape that is not typical to find at my house is gewürztraminer, and definitely not one from Oregon. But this is another gem that caught my attention on a trip to Willamette Valley a few years ago. When I noticed this was a 2011 my heart sank a little, not again.

The tasting room at Sarver was a bit frazzled when I visited, a wedding was taking place on the property that evening and all focus seemed to be on the event. I remember feeling rushed and wanting to stay and enjoy these wines more. I managed to leave with one bottle, now hoping against hope that it had survived the years.

Wow, it was still brilliant, tropical and fresh. I wanted more and got online to see what the winery was offering. Gewürztraminer, is not currently available for purchase, it could be a winery only selection and why I picked it up.

As for Mendel's Semillon, it is an award winning wine, imported by Vine Connections, so there is a good chance you can find the current release.

Let me know if you do!

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Fast and Casual Summer Special

Oh how I've been remiss on getting the word out concerning this restaurant and this great summer contest. It's been more than a week since I first set foot into a PDQ (US41 in Fort Myers). It's funny to hear people who don't know, guess what it means. While you can still play the game, I'll give you the answer:   People Dedicaed to Quality.
The new PDQ on US41 in Fort Myers
This newest chicken chain is the brainchild of some former top brass in the Outback Steakhouse operation; immediately lending credibility. Beginning in Tampa in 2011, there are now 43 restaurants around the country. Each location has the proprietors name on the door; inspiring pride at the top almost always filters down the line.

A fast casual restaurant, don't lump this into the "fast food" category you may have stored in your brain. Everything at PDQ is fresh and made in house. I toured the kitchen and can vouch for that claim. I did not see one microwave, nothing frozen, no plastic bags of premixed anything. It is evident in the taste of the food; chicken tenders, salads, sandwiches and decadent hand-spun shakes.

Even the fries are hand-cut and go through quite a process to get them tasting just right. They are cut and rinsed over and over to get the starch out, then blistered and fried in soy oil just before you order. You can actually taste the potato flavor!

Washed and blistered, these guys are waiting for the fryer
There's a hand washing basin by the drink station, making it fun for kids and easy for adults to wash up before and after meals. The self serve drink machines offer 155 flavors, there are fresh brewed teas including the house special, a jasmine clover green tea. It is made fresh and taste tested every day. So is the lemonade. The PDQ on US41 in Fort Myers hand squeezes as many as two cases of lemons a day, mixing the fresh juice with simple syrup and water: so refreshing!

The chicken tenders are big and juicy. The choices for dipping sauces range from sweet sriracha and chipotle BBQ to creamy garlic, buffalo blue and more.
More than a half-dozen dipping sauces will delight your taste buds

The kitschen is wide open, you can even see all of the way through it to the drive-up window, full disclosure. Ordering at the drive-thru is face to face with an employee, virtually eliminating any chance to mess up your order do to a squeaky microphone in a plastic box.

Sandwiches come with fresh cut fries or blueberry coleslaw

Giving back is an important part of the PDQ SOP (standard operating procedure). Charity nights and other fundraising opportunities abound, along with reward cards. The staff seams to really enjoy being here and will go out of their way to make sure you do too.

Now here is why I need to be whipped for the delay in passing along an great summer ends July 31. If you eat at PDQ ten times in the month of July you qualify to win food for a year and other sweet prizes!

Sign up here. You can still count the times you dined earlier in the month, as long as you have the receipt for reference information. Each restaurant will have a party at the end of the month and draw the winners name. If you frequent any of the newer locations, you're chances might increase as the word might not have gotten around.....until now!

Pick up some tenders for dinner tonight, delicious sandwiches for the office or fool everyone at your next party by serving PDQ's mouthwatering apple slices and toffee dip. You still have time to win so sign up today.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Summer Series: Fabulous Franciscan

Every summer it's the same drill, finding some good white wines to accompany seasonal foods and also feel good going down in high temperatures.

I was doing some research on medal winning wines for an upcoming story when I came across the latest releases from Franciscan. The 2014 vintage from Napa has been highly anticipated and thought to be a great year. From what I've tasted here, I'm excited to try more.

Equilibrium (under $25) is one of the signature bottlings from Franciscan Estate and the 2014 is extraordinary. With a beautifully floral nose, the crisp wine had citrus, peach and honeysuckle for a full range of flavors on the palate. This complex blend is sauvignon blanc based, with a little chardonnay and muscat to round things out.

Empty bottles equal a good tasting
The 2014 Sauvignon Blanc, in the $20 range, is made from grapes that are harvested from several sub-appelations in Napa Valley, fermented using a variety of techniques, then blended together for a great marriage. The result is a fresh wine with lime and lychee and a finish full of minerals and citrus.

Both of these wines are refreshing accompaniments to fish, summer picnic foods or simply sipping on their own. Be sure to buy several of each, as you will almost certainly want more once the bottle is empty.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

I "Heart" Ehlers

The first thing I noticed on the label when I was first introduced to Ehlers wines was how the E on the label forms a neat little heart.

Ehlers has quite a history, first making wine as early as the mid 1800's, then a long history of selling the land, recouping it all and then giving it away again, this time for charity. 100% of the proceeds from Ehlers wines goes to cardiovascular research, hence the heart on the label.

The celebrated winery grows Bordeaux varietals and is 100% organic. The newest releases come from the 2012 vintage, a banner year following the brutal weather of 2011 that caused many vintners big losses.

The 2012 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon may seem young for a Napa cab, and while it certainly could use a little more time in the bottle, it is delicious with lots of rich dark fruit; cherry, black raspberry a bit of caramel.

The 2012 Estate Merlot is bold but velvety, with some of the same characteristics of black raspberry and cherry, but a little more spice and a juicy mouthfeel.

Both wines come in around $55, good for drinking now but are keepers for some aging.

Monday, June 29, 2015

KC American Bistro Beats the Summer Heat

As the summer heat gets even hotter, my summer menu sampling continues with KC American Bistro in north Naples. This is another one of those great, strip mall finds.

The small bistro first opened in 2009 where it became a standing room only space. Four years later, Chef/Owner Keith Casey expanded and more than quadrupled the capacity while still keeping some intimacy.

This bistro serves American regional cuisine; a spin on traditional dishes from around the country, integrating local elements in a way that  just makes sense and tastes great.

You'll find lots of seafood on the menu but also succulent lamb, beef and a refreshing watermelon salad. Like many restaurants, chef is offering a few new seasonal specials that you have to try before they go away

One of these items is the cornmeal fried oysters served with a green apple slaw, over a cajun remoulade that had just the right amount of kick, not to overpower the mollusks. The cornmeal was crisp and the oysters juicy.

Also new for the summer is the potato crusted Alaskan Halibut served over lentils, garlic spinach and potato. There were layers and layers of flavor and I couldn't put my fork down, trying each of them individually and in conjunction with the others.

Also new this summer, KC American Bistro adds a full liquor bar to its lineup. The great wine list remains, with lots of boutique selections and a nice by the glass roster.

For even more specials, pick up the July edition of Living Local and look for the bistro's ad along with my business review

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Peter's Pinot.....

I love  experimenting with new white wines during the summer new, I mean new to me. Peter Zemmer is certainly not new to the wine making game. His grandfather founded a winery in the small Italian village of Cortina in 1928.

An Italian pinot grigio might not seem like a big deal to you, as many are thought to be sleepy. Not this one. The grapes come from Alto Adige in northern Italy where the average elevation is 1600 feet.  The valley is surrounded by snow capped mountains, popular for skiing, but the grapes are happy despite the cold, as there is prolific sunlight to warm them year round.

The alpine style wines released from this area are more and more impressive.

Once in the glass, the wine was a straw color with a floral nose. Mineral, acidic and tropical, I tasted a variety of fruits as it sat in my glass and warmed up a bit; melons, pineapple and citrus to name a few. It was fresh and enjoyable.

I served the Peter Zemmer Pinot Grigio with pasta, shrimp and fresh pesto and it was an satisfying combo. Next time, I would like to try it with any salty appetizer or fish dish, or simply drink it on its own. In the price range of $16, this one is a delicious and affordable simmer find.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Barbatella: Summer BOGO's and Brunch

For food and wine lovers, summer in Southwest Florida is exciting. Forget about the suffocating humidity and threat of hurricanes, we've got 1/2 price wine and pre-fix menu's that will make you sweat.

Some amazing places are putting forth some amazing deals to make us brave the heat and afternoon rains, Barbatella is one of them. The restaurant on Third Street South in Naples not only has some new summer dishes but equally impressive are the seasonal deals.

I got a sneak peak recently while sipping a floral and fruity Zibibbo from Sicily. Yes Zibibbo is a grape, it is typically on the sweet side, but this one was fresh, with more minerality; a nice summer treat served at Barbatella.

Gorgonzola and pistachio, wrapped in fig and salami
Some super specials this time of year include a happy hour that starts at 2:00 and an early dining menu; three delicious courses for only $21.50.

This restaurant has a courtyard, a cozy bar and an open pizzeria with a wood fired oven. The pies are fantastic, especially on Monday when it is buy one get one all day.

Other great deal include Wine Wednesday with 1/2 off bottles under $100 and Sunday when it is 1/2 off ALL bottles. The Sunday Brunch is also impressive with a three-course spread for $21.50 and $3 mimosa's all day.

There are specials almost every day of the week but they're not listed on the website at the time of this posting, so give them a call. Get out and enjoy their great food and drinks at amazing prices this summer.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Wiley Whites

Since it's summer I can "officially" wear white, and I feel the need to drink them (and pink) too. Unfortunatley I've had a few tucked away that just didn't withstand the test of time and have had to dump more than drink lately. Sad.

I fell in love with the Cadaretta SBS during a Wine Wednesday interview a couple of years ago, and stocked up on a case of the sauvignon blanc/semillion blend. Digging around for some weekend wines, I FOUND ONE, but my excitement was quickly tempered when I read the fine print....2011.

Not because it was a precarious year for some growers (mostly in California, this is from Washington) but because it's four years old. While some reds aren't even released for four years, whites are a different story....aging potential is generally more limited.

When first opened, my fears were supported....disappointment. It was a bit astringent, however, I tasted tropical fruit even mango, so I put a cork on it and tried it again the next day. Guess what? It worked itself out.

Moral of the story....if there is a HINT of potential....let it sit and try it again, you never know if magic can happen with a little infusion of oxygen.

Friday, June 5, 2015

Bubbles, Brunch and Tunes

Photo: Hyatt Regency Coconut Point 

I recently updated the Best Brunch category for !0Best, a division of USA TODAY, and new to the list is the Tarpon Bay Restaurant at the Hyatt Regency Coconut Point Resort.

The Champagne and Jazz Sunday Brunch features a fantastic spread along with live jazz from 10:30– 2:30. While the music is lovely and the food divine, I particularly like the Champagne's unlimited, whether in the form of a Bellini, mimosa or straight up.

Photo: Gina Birch
The buffet is full of seasonal fruit, rich cheeses and seafood; some fresh and local others imported from around the world. And the choices don't stop here. Part of the brunch includes a made to order main course such as cornish hens, Waygu beef, fish, omelets, eggs Benedict and more. There is no possible way you will leave here hungry. 
Photo: Hyatt Regency Coconut Point 

The desserts are decadent and the chocolate fountain is always a treat. Enjoy this feast for $48, children 5-12 are $24 and children under 5 are complimentary. This event often sold out at the beginning of the year, so now is the time to get a seat. I would still recommend calling for  reservation, as it is coming up on wedding season and you never know if the room will be booked out. 

Photo: Hyatt Regency Coconut Point 

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Down The Drain

It's never fun when a friend moves away.....unless he gives you the wine he doesn't want to pack. At first there is excitement at a big score, then there is trepidation. After looking at the labels I realized these are gonna be epic or they are going to suck, because of their age. Some wines are made for aging, others for drinking within a few years or even months.

It was like Vegas in my house tonight....rolling the dice. I started with the oldest bottle.

1) 1995 Jacob's Creek Orlando Shiraz/Cabernet. It smelled like a fortified wine and I thought for a second that I might actually give it a swirl over my tongue. Then I saw how cloudy it was and just couldn't do it. First one down the drain. Mild disappointment but in a way I kind of expected a 20 year old bottle from Australia to be past its prime....unless it was a Grange.

2) 1998 Primus Carmenere/Cabernet Sauvignon. This one smelled musty and a bit like stewed fruit. I thought I might actually get a little something from it, but what I got was a mere hint of what it was. I could vaguely taste its fruit, enough to know that maybe 10 years ago, I would've been all over it. Bottle two.....down the drain.

3) 1999 Fife L'Attitude. It looked OK other than the little bits of floating cork. So far all three corks had broken so this was not a good sign for me. The smell was a bit mineral, another bad sign but not bad enough for me to deny giving it a swirl. Sadly, no fruit, all acid. My recycling bin just got fuller.

4) 1999 Ben Marco V.M.S. I was really hoping this would be the one, as I'm a big fan of winemaker Susana Balbo. But the minute I took the foil off of the neck, I saw the cork had been compromised. Of course it crumbled but for the sake of the experiment, I pushed through. The color was strong but unfortunately so was the smell. Way to funky for even a fan to try. Another sad dump.

5) 2010 Seghesio Sonoma Zinfandel. I decided to get out of the 90's with its boy bands and grunge and move into the next decade....way into the next decade. The cork stayed intact, good sign. I thought, if this one doesn't work, I give up. It worked.

The years have balanced it out; good fruit, spice and good with the sundried tomatoes on my salad. Thank you Charles. So far the gamble you took, not to pack these former gems was a good one. But so was the Seghesio. More to come. Cheers!

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Winemaking, Film Making and Fun Making

Tasting with Markham Vineyards winemaker, Kim Nicholls
If you haven't seen the PBS documentary Vintage: Napa Valley 2012, put it on your list. Even if you are not a lover of the vines, you will love this story and its cinematography. 

Camera's closely followed three women winemakers during harvest, the most stressful and most exciting time of the year for their wineries. The behind the scenes look is fascinating, you'll never look at the wine in your glass the same after knowing all it went through to get there.

I was introduced to the film along with the three winemakers featured in it, at an event in Naples recently and was in turn able to tell the story in the current edition (May/June 2015) of Bonita Estero Magazine (page 68).

Sooooo.....I got to meet some great women, drink their amazing wines with them, was able to tell their story to those who weren't there, and for the cherry on top.....a wine dinner has been planned, based on my story and these women's amazing wine. Southern Wine and Spirits has teamed up with Blue Coyote Sanibel to feature delicious selections from Chimney Rock, Markham Vineyards and Rutherford Hill. 

I sat in on a tasting with the chef and managers, while they brainstormed on what wines to serve and what dishes to prepare for each. While I don't know the final outcome, if it is anything like what I heard, it is going to be spectacular. Make a reservation for the June 18th event by calling 239-472-9222. I'll see you there.


Wednesday, May 20, 2015

More Than Meat At Ted's

Ted's new Farmhouse Salad
With Memorial Day weekend just days away, and the beginning of the summer season, many restaurants are shifting their menu's to reflect seasonal items and dishes that are suited for warmer weather.

I recently got to try a sampling of the new summer menu at Ted's Montana Grill at Coconut Point Mall in Estero. A little bit of trivia, this was the very first restaurant to open with the mall and nearly nine years later, it is still thriving.

The new salads with kale should be keepers! The Farmhouse was my favorite, kale and romaine, with chicken, cucumber, tomato, Gruyere, bacon, roasted corn and pecans tossed in a fresh lemon vinaigrette that had a nice kick. The dressings are made in house each day and they are delightful.
Ted's new Smoked Trout Dip
The new smoked trout dip for an appetizer is perfect for sharing. With a touch of paprika, this is not a dip where the smoke overpowers the fish, it has a nice balance.

As for drinks, all of them are made with fresh squeezed fruit juices, not bottled. What IS bottled is Ted's own label of wine. Bison Ridge comes in a chardonnay that is citrusy and fresh, with a sightly creamy finish. The merlot smells like chocolate and plum and tastes of cherry and herbs. And the cabernet sauvignon is full of cherry and red fruit, very pleasant with the bison burgers.

Bison Ridge wine is exclusive to Ted's
Bison is the big draw here but if you aren't interested in it, all burgers also come with the more traditional Angus Beef. Another plus for alternative burger connoisseurs, Ted's veggie burger is moist, flavorful and delicious, no hockey pucks here.

Of course there are lots of lighter items for the summer that involve fish and chicken, all made fresh everyday, nothing here is frozen. The atmosphere is always welcoming and chef Juan Rangel has a great story. Check out more on the Ted's Montana Grill location at Coconut Point in my latest 10Best article: Click here.

Don't forget dessert: strawberry shortcake on homemade biscuts 

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Hangin' With The Vanderbilts.

I'm at the Biltmore Estates in Asheville, NC to celebrate the legendary property's 30th anniversary. And what better way than to hang out on the farm with a "real" Vanderbilt.

Chase Pickering is a fifth generation Vanderbilt (George's great great grandson) and recently returned to the estate as a marketing manager. Such a lovely person to spend the morning with.

As we took a behind the scenes tour of the land and learned its farming history, he regaled us with tales of growing up on the grounds of "America's most beautiful mansion." We heard lots of great stories, like how he and his friends would jump on the feed bales until the split open, how fun it was to watch the filming of the many famous movies shot here, traveling the world on projects to protect the environment and animals, working at Walt Disney World, pointing out his favorite trees including the one he proposed to his wife under, and most importantly how excited he was to be home and promote the beloved family estate.

He was truly excited to share with us his love of the field to farm green house and hydroponics, growing canola for fuel, the excellent care given to the animals here, the land conservation and all of the attention to details most people don't get to see on a simple tour of the estate.

What an amazing place full of amazing people. More to come......

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Virgin Flight.....

I was commiserating with some friends recently about how flying just isn’t as fun as it used to be.

During a flight I took this week, I was particularly observant of fellow flyers, like the lady in security who put her bags on the belt then stood in front of a metal detector that was roped off. No matter how long she stood there, no one was going to open it up and let her through, but there she stood. Maybe she was hung-over?

Then the passengers in front of me (and behind), who loaded up the belt with goods to be scanned but never pushed them through, just walked away to the metal detector. Why sure, I’ll do that for you. Maybe you are hung-over too?

Then there was the wading through a throng of people who decided to wait for boarding in the busy concourse walkway, leaving barely enough room for the rest of us to pass (including the flight attendant who has carrying FOUR bags). I doubt they are ALL hung-over, just unaware perhaps.

And so was the girl waiting right by the boarding door (pictured by wardrobe only below), even though she was in zone FIVE.....the last one. 

Despite the weirdness, things were looking good during boarding. The six wheelchairs loaded with ease, there was plenty of overhead space and clean, polite passengers were seated next to me. Then I heard it …yip yip yip. The dog on this flight far outweighed the annoyance of a crying child; constant, yipping and yowling. I’m sure all of my friends reading this who fly with little dogs, have well behaved pets, or ones that are slightly drugged for relaxation.

It was so bad that the little boy behind me said rather loudly, “That dog is annoying.” He caught my ear. Usually I have ear buds in by this time but I left them behind and had been lamenting the oversight until this moment.

It was the boy’s first flight and I got a play by play, along with the rest of the plane, as his exuberant voice carried. When the flaps on the wings first moved he yelled WOAH! Then, “MOM WE’RE MOVING.” He also let us know we were turning, moving a little too slowly, and passing other planes, among other things.

While I was amused, the joy for me came in hearing his laughter, squeal and shout as we gained speed and took off. It was the best take off I’ve had in a long time, smiling laughing with every loud exclamation I heard from him.

And it continued through the flight with him questioning the “dings” heard over the intercom, asking his mom if we were going into space, if we had enough fuel, swearing he could see his house from the air and gasping when his view was suddenly erased by a bank of clouds.

Suddenly I didn’t hear the grating cries of that dog anymore, or the lady in front complaining because she would really like someone to take her middle seat so she could have an aisle (good luck sister). I actually enjoyed flying again because I saw the wonderment of it through the virgin flight of a little boy.

Thank you lil man.

Saturday, May 9, 2015

An Artful Weekend

Artists tents surround the warm shores of Lake Morton
For more than 35 years, Lake Morton (Lakeland, FL) has been overtaken on Mother's Day Weekend by artists and art enthusiasts from all over the country for the MIDFLORIDA Mayfair by the Lake.

This is widely considered the last major art show of the season in Florida. Many artists are quick to announce, they are ready to get home and often times, this translates into deals for buyers....  don't want to load up that big metal sculpture of a ballerina? I'll take if off of your hands.

Not only is the last of the season, this art show has become one of the most respected on the circuit. More than 150 artists from across the nation are here with everything from painting, mixed media art, jewelry, metal work, pottery and so much more.

Black swans, white swans, ducks, egrets and all kinds of birds also attend the show
Set on the shores of the lovely Lake Morton (downtown), spectators also get a show by Mother Nature. This area is known for its swan population and is a hot spot for migratory birds.

The art stretches around more than 3/4 of the lake, however, the center of activity is at the Polk Museum of Art, where shady oak trees keep festival goers cool while watching musicians, dancers and other entertainment on the outdoor stage.

Fun for the entire family and good for finding that perfect gift for mom this year.