Thursday, December 18, 2014

Bubbles And Ice Make A "Sparkling" Holiday

More wineries around the world are getting more creative, not only with their packaging of fermented spirits but also with what is in the bottle. This season I have been introduced to a number of new sparkling wines that make the perfect base for a bubbly cocktail.

French winery J.P. Chenet, has released a new Ice Edition ($38), packaged in an elegant white bottle, but suggested to be served over ice. Yes ice.

For wine lovers who like theirs on the sweeter side, this is perfect. I brought a bottle to a holiday party where it was well received and there happened to be a a pitcher of  pink lemonade on the counter. The combination made for an enjoyable spritzer. The wine on it's own was sweet, with a bit of almond on the finish.


A new bubbly from Italy, also marketed for serving over ice, is the "iL" Spr!tz from Mionetto ($12). This sparkling wine is mixed with blood orange and spice before bottled. The spice is prevalent and so is the fruit, citrus with a hint of pomegranate.

A traditional Venetian cocktail now bottled and sold in the US, also try it with a splash of vodka. I opened this one at another party where once again it was well received; both on its own as well as over ice with a slice of orange.

The crown cap on iL Spr!tz is convenient while the wine is promoted as being lower in calories than many holiday cocktails at less than 100 per four ounce serving.



Recently introduced to the Florida market and new from Chandon, is a delightful cuvee that means delicious in French; Delice ($22).

This semi-sweet California sparkler is easy to drink on it's own, but still billed as delicious over ice. This is the more dry of the three and in a cocktail, try it with grapefruit or cucumber for a fresh and refreshing blend.

When it comes to sparkling wines and Champagnes, I'm first and foremost a fan of the dry ones. The bubbles with a taste of so-called 'biscuit' and nuts, I could drink all day everyday.

But I LOVE BUBBLES, something about watching them travel up a glass is mesmerizing. AND these sweeter ones are great for adding an effervescent kick to a cocktail, a nice accompaniment to a salty dish or a tasty treat for dessert. Bottom line, you can't go wrong with anything that sparkles during the holidays.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

The Jolly Traveler

The Jolly Traveler, the name alone makes me happy.

I think of a of smiling European man with a big belly, mustache and rosy cheeks; hiking the countryside, stopping at pubs along the way and laughing heartily with strangers who become friends by the end of the night.

Besides the obvious play on a holiday word, maybe that is one of the visions the brewmasters at Traveler Beer Co. had in mind when both creating and naming their new winter shandy.

A traditional shandy is a glass of ale mixed with lemonade or lemon-lime soda. However the wheat ale in THIS shandy is brewed with the fruit. The orange, pomegranate and spice make this a perfect holiday libation. I typically don't like sweet flavors in my beer, but this has just the right amount and it screams "holiday" to my taste buds.

Forget those dark, heavy seasonal beers, especially in Florida where the mercury is still in the 80's and where  something refreshing to drink is almost always appreciated. This shandy from Vermont is in most major retailers and on tap at lots of local restaurants for the Christmas and winter season. Try it and let me know if you become a "Jolly Traveler." CHEERS!


Sunday, November 23, 2014

Bubbles and the Bird

If it has bubbles, I want to drink it; prosecco, cava, Champagne and/or sparkling wine. And since bubbles are great with birds, consider serving them this Thanksgiving.

Just returning from a trip to France, I admit to being partial to Champagne, however, I DO enjoy a good prosecco....Italian sparkling wine made from a grape also known as glera.

Prosecco has become wildly popular not just in the US but around the world, because of its low cost and good quality. Just two of several reasons to consider this wine for this weeks Thanksgiving celebrations.

I took the difficult challenge of trying a couple of selections prior to the big day and want to pass on my observations for consideration.

I have to admit I was a little taken aback by the packaging of the of Riondo Prosecco Spago Nero, as the cork was one typically found in a still wine; no wire cage, no twisting until the pressure forced the cork out. I had to use a standard wine key to pop this cork.

A bit fruity, citrusy and slightly sweet, this wine would be a great aperitif or good with any spicy dish you may be serving.

For something with a bit more body and acidity, try the Astoria "Lounge" Prosecco. It has the most beautiful, fine bubbles, a bit of apple, pear and would go well with anything salty or creamy.

Even better, after dinner, make a palate cleansing Sgroppino with the prosecco; fill your flute with about 3 oz of prosecco,  1 oz of vodka and a third a cup of lemon sorbet for a light and refreshing finisher.

Find both wines for under $15. For that price buy a couple.




Friday, November 21, 2014

Lingering at LaMotta's

It always makes me feel good when I'm feeling bad.....Italian food. There is something about tomatoes and basil and garlic and cheese and pasta and.....well, you know!

Not only does LaMotta's Italian Restaurant and Pizzeria (Fort Myers, FL) have the Italian classics you know and love (including delicious pizza), Chef Carmelo has a few tricks up his sleeve, like shrimp and grits ($12). The seared shrimp are drizzled in a spicy bada bing sauce, and the grit cakes are full of the shellfish; pleasing presentation and taste.
Shrimp and Grits 
For more seafood specialties, LaMottas makes a decadent lobster ravioli full of claw meat, and a creamy, delicious lobster risotto too.

I loved how the Filet Florentine ($23) was presented. Served over spinach, the eight ounce filet was topped with melted mozzarella, sundried tomatoes and prosciutto, wrapped to look like a flower.

Filet Florentine

Another super dish for carnivores is the New York strip ($21), smothered in a savory mushroom demi-glace. Get some bread to sop up all of the delicious juice.

New York strip in a mushroom demi-glace
But my favorite was the Sicilian Osso Bucco with meat so tender it fell right off of the bone. The slow roasted pork was served over pasta with hearty red sauce; talk about comfort food on a dreary day.

If this wasn't enough, the table also sampled a plate of crisp, Italian fried chicken; flavor and texture fantastic. And the pasta sachette ($17); pasta purses stuffed with cheese and served in a mushroom demi-glace cream sauce. The garlic rolls were particularly nice when dipped in the sauce.

As we lingered and lamented at full we were, the desserts came out and the lemoncello was poured. You will leave LaMotta's full, satisfied, and maybe with a slight touch of guilt. Not because of all the calories you consumed but because you paid so little for so much goodness!


Thursday, November 20, 2014

Raise Your Glass! It's Beaujolais Nouveau Day

Everyone has something that signifies the beginning of the holiday season to them. For me, it is the arrival of Beaujolais Nouveau, the brightly colored wine bottles you'll now see in grocery and liquor stores, full of the newest release of wine from Beaujolais in France.

It has become a much anticipated celebration around the world on the third Thursday of November, the time designated by French law for this wine to be unveiled. Just like New Years, once midnight hits, corks are popped and the new vintage is consumed.


Thanks to my friends from Georges Duboeuf, I received a bottle in advance and was trusted to wait until midnight to open. Well, since midnight in France was 6pm US time yesterday......just kidding, I waited until midnight to pop the cork....really.

Georges Duboeuf is called the King of Beaujolais Nouveau and 2014 is being called a good year for Beaujolais. The winery's new release is full of red fruit, raspberry and it's a bit acidic.

Many wine aficionados turn their backs on Beaujolais Nouveau Day, saying this wine does not represent the true quality of Beaujolais. Since Beaujolais Nouveau (made from100% gamay grapes) is bottled 6-8 weeks after harvest, it has no time to age and does not have much depth of flavor. It is best with a little chill on it.

Beaujolais Nouveau may not be the best wine served at your holiday gathering but it's tradition, the labels are fun and festive and it is super affordable, in the $10 range. The holidays are officially here! CHEERS!


Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Rose Everyday- Wine Wednesday

Tasting in the world's rose' capital: Tavel

While spending time in France this autumn, my friends and I adopted a fabulous mantra "Rose' Everyday." When I finally made it back to the states, the first lunch date I had was at a small kabob place that only served fountain drinks and bottled water. I got a little fidgety, like an addict I whimpered to my friends....."No rose'? We might have to go somewhere else."

I've always liked this beautiful, dry, pink wine but I learned to LOVE it in France. It was hard not to after drinking it in the rose' capital of the world, Tavel. In fact, the only wine produced in this small village is rose'.

One of our many stops in Tavel was at Domaine Lafond, the winery also had some delicious reds, grown in neighboring villages, but the rose's were on our radar. Lafond Domaine Tavel (made mostly from grenache grapes) was a rich wine, spicy yet floral and one that would stand up nicely to food. It is exported to the US and you can find it for under $20.

Another good rose' for Wine Wednesday is Notorious Pink, from the neighboring region of Provence. This one is 100% grenache, with a little more fruit, a nice blend of citrus, berries, gentle acidity and a crisp finish. A great sipper, also in the $20 range.

Are you afraid of pink wine? Still judging it as that sweet, white zinfandel? It's time to move on my lovelies! In France, the pink stuff is revered. It is standard operating procedure to have it for lunch, and in the Rhone Valley where it is done so well, it is even considered appropriate to buy it in a box. I won't tell you how many we went through....boxes or bottles.

Think about adding rose' to your Thanksgiving shopping list. Not only is it a good starter, it also plays well with turkey.




Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Diving Into The Devil's Cellar For Halloween

Photo: Casillero del Diablo
Halloween is always a fun party and there are certainly a lot of clever wine labels suited for the season. But a fun label doesn't guarantee a good glass. So one of my go to wines this time of year, comes from Concha y Toro; Casillero del Diablo.

Translated, the label means "Devil's Cellar" and goes back to an old tale from Concha y Toro's founder, Don Melchor. He started a rumor that a devil lived in the cellar of his Chilean winery,  hoping it would keep the thieves out. The folklore lives on and today you'll find the devil on the bottle, just above the label.

I opened a Casillero del Diablo Chardonnay and Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon for pumpkin carving festivities this week. The cab is full of plums and cherries with a little toast; good with our grilled meats and nutty appetizers. It was also nice to drink on its own.

The chardonnay has some apple, citrus and a bit of vanilla so I thought it would compliment our caramel fondu; apples and pretzels for dipping. Not only was it a great pairing but the salty toasted pumpkin seeds, hot out of the oven, were also a good accompaniment.


The best part about these wines is the value. You can find an array of Casillero del Diablo in the $10-$15 range; perfect to keep for house wine not only this time of year, but all year long.

The winery is currently running a costume contest on twitter and Facebook for a DSLR camera, so post your photos for a chance to win.





Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Let il Tesoro Tickle Your Tastebuds

Antipasti goodies
My recent trip to Italy made me realize I've been quite negligent in getting the word out, on some amazing stateside, Italian restaurants I've dined at lately, such as il Tesoro on Sanibel Island.

This is one of my favorite physical spots on the island, a location tucked away in tropical foliage. The building itself has housed a number of successful restaurants but many move on as they outgrow the small intimate space. The wooden floors, the low ceilings, very romantic and cozy.


But what about the food this small kitchen continues to crank out? The menu is full of pastas and fish, as well as hearty selections such as lamb shanks, braised short ribs, veal and more.

I started with a plate of delicious meats, cheeses, olives, artichokes and other antipasti delights, after being tempted by them from the counter, as soon as I walked in the door.

Next up was the Lobster Agrodolce ($17). The lobster tail is tempura fried, served with tomato and red onion salad and a sweet and sour sauce. What a treat. The Fuggotini ($15), or "stuffed purses" were full of goat cheese, roasted pear and sautéed with brown butter and fresh sage. There was nearly a fight over the last bite.

il Tesoro's Fuggotini
I also tried a perfectly cooked swordfish special over a rich and creamy risotto and the Lamb Shank Osso Buco; it is braised with a spicy tomato and roasted eggplant sauce, served over saffron risotto ($35). Filling and fabulous.

And by all means....save room for dessert; decadent cannoli's, tiramisu and other daily treats.


There are SO many things on the menu that look and sound SO good, I can't wait to go back and try more at this island treasure.

The owners have a second location in New York City that I would assume is just as fantastic as on this island. So my NYC friends, let me know when you go! Bravo il Tesoro. I'll see you again soon.


Il Tesoro on Urbanspoon

Friday, October 24, 2014

Best Travel Dress

Always looking for functional, fashionable items, I found a fun wrap dress at a charming boutique on Sanibel Island called B Unique Boutique. The dress, Wrap It by Tish, is featured in my column, "What's In Store," for the September/October issue of Bonita & Estero Magazine: on stands for a few more days or online here.

Designer Tish Grosek is a dynamic, inspirational woman, who created this piece so she could have something versatile to wear, from a beach cover up to a cocktail dress. Fabric and design were the keys to making this work, and after some trial and error, she nailed it. It wasn't long before friends and strangers asked where she bought it and viola, a business was born. Well, it wasn't quite that easy, as she would tell you.

The dress comes in short and long, I thought the long might give me more options and the basic black would be good for traveling and pairing accessories. I played with the dress at home to be sure it was as functional as Tish told me but couldn't wait to REALLY put it to the test, on the road.

My Wrap It was of the core items I packed for a six-week trek through Europe and I have to say, it's  one of the best travel dresses I've ever had. I tucked and wrapped and folded it into a variety of styles, including a shawl and a skirt.

Ah, the skirt. It was a rainy day and the way I wore the wrap found its fabric barely off of the ground. As I walked through Paris, stepping over and in puddles, I noticed that the rain was beading up on the front of my skirt and rolling off. NICE. And the bottom that inevitably got soaked, dried before I was finished with my first glass of rose at lunch.

In addition, it barely took up any room in my luggage and somehow stayed wrinkle free.

If you are looking for a wardrobe piece that is functional, fashionable and FUN, you've got to get one of these. Wrap It comes in two lengths and a variety of colors for both casual and elegant looks. This is a great gift for that 'hard to buy for' person on your shopping list this season.



Wednesday, October 22, 2014

We All Scream For Irish Cream

I was busy celebrating National Liqueur Day last week and forgot to hit "publish"on this post. Better late than never.....

Although today is not the kind of 'national' day that lets us sleep in, it does call us to celebrate. Today is National Liqueur Day! Yes, there really is such a thing.

And just in time for the holidays Kerrygold has introduced a new Irish Cream Liqueur to the Florida market. I have purchased many delicious Kerrygold cheeses and their lovely REAL butter, but an Irish Cream? Well why hasn't it happened sooner?

Sin City cocktail from Kerrygold

Made from natural cream, using milk from grass-fed cows, Kerrygold adds premium aged Irish whiskey and rich chocolate to make a decadent, delicious treat. It's smooth and creamy over a few cubes of ice, or for an extra special treat try mixing 1 oz of Kerrygold Irish Cream, 1 oz Cinnamon Vodka and .5 oz of Espresso Vodka. Shake with ice, strain into a martini glass and sprinkle with cinnamon.

But the recipe I REALLY want to try (if I can save enough Irish Cream) is the Caramel Irish Cream Cupcakes! Put these on your holiday baking list!

CUPCAKES:                                                  BUTTERCREAM:
1 box of fudge cake mix                                  1 cup shortening
3 large eggs                                                     1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 melted Kerrygold Butter                           8 cups powdered sugar
2/3 cup milk                                                    8 cups powdered sugar
1/3 cup Kerrygold Irish Cream                      1/3-1/2 cup Kerrygold Irish Cream
                                                                       1/4-1/3 cup heavy whipping cream


DIRECTIONS:
Preheat oven to 350 F
Using a large mixing bowl, add cake mix, eggs, butter, Irish Cream, and milk and mix on low until combined. Then mix on high for 2 minutes. Pour batter into paper lined cupcake pans. Bake for 20 min. Cool completely. In large mixing bowl mix cream, shortening and vanilla for 2-4 minutes. Add powdered sugar, one cup at a time. Combine Irish Cream with cream in measuring cup and slowly add to sugar mixture, using more cream for a creamy consistency, use less milk for a stiff consistency. Garnish with chocolate and caramel syrup.

Let me know they turn out and CHEERS to National Liqueur Day. Bravo Kerrygold.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Befriending The Box

I've always been a fan of rose' and have loved exploring the subtleties of this beautiful, dry, pink wine, in the Southern Rhone. It is so important here that there is an entire region/village/town that only produces rose', no other wine; Tavel. It is awesome and it tends to be a bit more pricey than its neighboring region/village/town called Lirac. In Lirac is where I discovered rose'..... in a BOX. So good!

Find wines bottled as well as boxed in many Rhone tasting rooms
The beleaguered boxed wine (in the US) is a man's best friend in France, at least for everyday consumption. Boxed wine is meant to drink, not age, in packaging with a vacuum seal technology that prevents air from contacting the juice once opened. Air is the enemy of an opened bottle. The box is also a bargain, providing twice as much wine for the money.

Special containers allow regulars to get their wine to go
Not only did this fun tasting room in Lirac sell wine by the bottle and box, but also BYOC: bring your own container. Reduce your carbon footprint, save a few Euros and have your house wine close at hand. The box of rose' we bought has for sure been close at hand, so convenient; like getting water out of the tap. Too convenient as a sip here and a splash there adds up quickly.

We found out just how quickly the random afternoon sips added up today, as suddenly we had to tilt our 5-liter box a bit to get a full glass. When the flow turned to drops things got serious. 'Someone' pulled the wine bag out of the box and began wringing the ends, almost like trying to get that last bit of toothpaste out of the tube.


By the photo, it is clear that we had more than enough Euro's on the table to go out and buy another box, or better yet, walk to the cooler and open a REAL bottle. But who wants to take the easy route? It was great sport to see how much we could milk from the vacuum sealed, vineyard utter.


The absurdity of our attempt and echoes of our laughter ended in sweet success, as each of us got enough crisp, cold wine to enjoy on the terrace with some local cheeses, fruits and sundried tomato tapenade; while contemplating the next bottle....or box. Cheers!

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Sunday In The French Countryside

My room with a view
While I love spending time in the country, I'm a city girl at heart. I love the energy of a city, the diversity of the people, the food, art, culture, yada yada yada.

Don't get me wrong, over the years I've relished my brief visits to the country, mostly wine country. But my visit to wine county in France this month (Rhone Valley) has given me a new love and appreciation for the country and the country. 

OK, I'll admit to spending time in the cities of Paris, Lyon and Avignon on this trip. And then there was a week in Croatia and several days in Italy to break things up a bit. But the countryside has been my working home base for a month. 

At home in the US, the illumination I see in the middle of the night comes from streetlights. Here, it comes from the stars: THOUSANDS OF THEM. Every night I wake up (for whatever reason) I fling open the windows, (if they aren't already open) lean my head out and just stare in amazement at the brilliant, twinkling canvass laid out before me. Yes, I can actually see the stars twinkling. Awestruck. 

The sun rising, spreading down the hill, not quite to the valley yet
My view is one of hills and valleys and rows of vines; my favorite kind, they grow grapes. Instead of hearing motorcycles, sirens and neighbors coming home late, I hear the mistral winds; howling at times. I've heard the hooves, heaving breathing and grunts of the wild boar searching the rocky slopes of the backyard for grubs and other treats. 

Then as the sun rises, I hear the howls and barks of the dogs, hunting those boars. They must not be doing such a great job as I have yet to hear a gunshot. Whew.


In the country, although no one is in a rush on a Sunday morning, it helps to get to the bakery early to be sure there are still croissants, so buttery and airy they literally melt in your mouth. I have been ruined for life by these incredible delicacies found in the small village of St Remeze. Heavenly.

It's true that most of the markets and many of the grocery stores are closed here on Sunday, so it takes a little planning and pre-shopping to be prepped for the day. But instead of being annoying (as I would be back home), I find it refreshing, as now we can truly have a day of rest and relaxation. We have all that we need.

We have all that we need.

Thank you God.


Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Wine Wednesday; Flowers and Fruit

I've been drinking lots of French wine lately, not only honing my palate for an upcoming trip but also because I LIKE IT!

I also like finding great values, which is not always easy when it comes to wines from Bordeaux. Mouton Cadet is one of the regions most successful, affordable brands, offering some wines that are perfect for waiting out the summer heat.

While I like a good rose' anytime of the year, put a nice chill on the 2013 and have it with grilled seafood, stir fry or as a sipper while hanging out with friends. This one is made up of mostly merlot, with a little cabernet franc and cabernet sauvignon. I liked it better after it opened up a little as the raspberry notes became more clear. Nice and dry, this wine also looks beautiful in the glass.

Known mostly for its amazing red wines, Bordeaux is also the birthplace of sauvignon blanc. Mouton Cadet's The is a fresh delight with just the right touch of citrus. I noticed lots of peach and a hint of juicy nectarine. Another good choice to pair with fish or chicken off of the grill, or a fresh salad with some salty, creamy cheese.

Find both wines in the $10 range. Now that makes for another happy Wine Wednesday!

Monday, August 18, 2014

An Angry Orchard Makes For A Happy Party

Angry Orchard released a green apple hard cider this spring, and this wine lover has somehow ended up with a refrigerator full of it!

One of my favorite hard candies are the jolly ranchers; I love the bold flavors and this cider took me there. The green apple is crisp and refreshing but it also has just a hint of melon in the glass.

We did a little experimenting at my house when an afternoon cookout was chased indoors by both heat and rain. Not only did we drink the cider, but cooked with it. After sautéing some onions and adding Angry Orchard to the pan, sweet sausage was placed into the sizzling mix. Not only did it smell great but also added a nice touch of flavor to the meat.

The experimenting continued when the Fireball (cinnamon whiskey) was opened and added to the green apple cider. Another mix that worked was ginger ale and cider; effervescent and refreshing.

I will tell you, it is not fun to get off of a kitchen floor so try to keep it in your glass or in your mouth if at all possible. Angry Orchard Green Apple Cider is a great summer treat.


Sunday, August 17, 2014

Betting Big On The "Bucket"

The popular Mercato Shops in Naples is full of trendy places to hangout; places that while offering good food and a cool scene aren't necessarily inviting for families or for diners in a more casual mood.

That all changed in May, when the Rusty Bucket opened its doors. A family friendly tavern, the new restaurant serves well prepared comfort food with fresh and local ingredients. The craft beer selection is quite impressive, the wine list is quite adequate and the cocktails are made with fresh squeezed juices. The dining geek in me loved the fact that the menu offers drink pairing suggestions, for appetizers as well as main courses.

Fresh and delicious grapefruit margarita
We enjoyed a hearty selection of appetizers including a tangy hummus platter and mouthwatering pork potstickers with sweet chili and ponzu sauce. But it was the fried pickles that had the entire table talking. These were not wimpy little pickle chips, but a healthy sized spear. Dipped in batter you would expect for fish and chips, the fried treats were perfectly crisp; good on their own but even better with the side of ranch dressing for dipping.

Palate pleasing pork potstickers

The main courses range from giant sandwiches and ribs, to burgers and fish. The grilled salmon with a soy glaze, stir fried green beans and sticky rice was so simple, yet simply delicious. The meaty and moist fish was seared with a pleasant crisp, and fantastic flavor.

Perfectly pan-seared salmon
This menu has a little bit of something for every diner, to please both diets and cravings. The Rusty Bucket has a kids reading program and the Blue Plate specials make eating here affordable for the family. In addition, it's a great spot to catch a game on the manyTV screens throughout the dining room and bar.

Rusty Bucket's signature 'Big Sicilian' pizza
Next time you are shopping at or passing by Mercato and want a good meal along with good service, kick it at the bucket, the Rusty Bucket.