Sunday, May 5, 2019

Unboxing Wine-- Frosé

I've been waiting on this box to finish a story....



I've never been able to buy into the whole Frosé thing...not sure why. Maybe this will change my mind? The directions on this say I can add wine (even sparkling) AND vodka, so this could just be the ticket.

I put it to the test at a friends house and will post the story when it is published. No spoilers.

Monday, April 22, 2019

It's always fun when UPS shows up


This unboxing is cool because I wrote about the Four Virtues Bourbon Barrel Aged Zinfandel in a column last year focusing on wines for grilling. So I'm looking forward to seeing how the cabernet holds up. Oh, and I can't forget about the pinot too. I'll post the results or links to the articles when they go live.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Farm To Glass Gin

You've mostly likely been to or at least heard about farm to table restaurants where chefs source food from local farms. Among other benefits, one of the most appealing is that the ingredients are fresher than those typically shipped.

I had never heard the term farm to glass spirits until I learned about Eau Claire from Canada. It is uniquely designated as a certified farm distillery. Owners compare the designation to that of an estate winery.

The ingredients used to distill the gin come from carefully sourced local grains. In addition, the natural botanicals are distilled along with the grains. The result is an amazingly smooth flavor and mouth feel. 

It is a London-style dry gin that has floral notes along with juniper, citrus, and spice, none of which are overpowering. Ideally suited for a gin martini.

Sunday afternoon I decided to try Eau Claire's gimlet recipe with a gin loving friend. Refreshing and so good, I could easily see getting into trouble with these. If you're searching for a new gin to try, give this one a go!


Parlour Gin Gimlet
2 oz Parlour Gin
3/4 oz fresh lime juice
3/4 oz simple syrup
Shake with ice and strain
Garnish with cucumber wheel or lime wedge











Tuesday, April 2, 2019



This delivery is pretty awesome as Pahlmeyer makes some impressive wines.

I'm torn with the Proprietary Red. Pahlmeyer has been producing this for 30 years. What I'm torn between is opening it now and being patient, letting it sit a few years. This wine has an amazing aging potential. 80% cab the rest merlot, cab franc, petit verdot and malbec. It's also pricey ($200) and not something I want to uncork with takeout on a Tuesday. This one deserves to be shared with special friends.

Decisions Decisions

Saturday, March 30, 2019

"Unboxing"...Wine

When I first heard of the "unboxing" phenomena, I really thought, this is the dumbest thing ever-- unless you are a friend of mine who does it. In that case it's BRILLIANT.

Unboxing is as simple as it sounds, taking things out of a box--filming and posting it on social media. I guess it's better than throwing slices of cheese on your toddlers face and filming that.

Then I got to thinking about it. I get excited every time a box of wine is delivered to my house. Sometimes I know what to expect, but more often than not I don't or quite frankly I have forgotten what's coming.

When I have friends over they too are excited to see what's hidden inside of that cardboard, what they might be helping me taste in a day or two, after things settle down in the bottle.

So I'm going to give it a go, not every delivery because once again, I'll forget. I will tell you that I was SUPER excited about this when it arrived, but didn't get that part on film, I'm learning..



The reason I was so excited about this? There are only 1843 bottles of this Besserat de Bellefon Cuvee 1843...and mama now has one. The packaging is beautiful and I can hardly wait to pop this cork and tell everyone about it.

Friday, March 22, 2019

Sharing Stories and Wine With Kimberly Jones

One of the best things about wine, besides sharing it with friends and enjoying it with food, is learning the stories behind it.

I met Kimberly Jones, founder of Kimberly Jones Selections several years ago and we hit it off immediately. I was fascinated by the story behind her becoming a successful wine importer and distributor. How she now has so many connections and friends in the wine world that she partners with big names to make wines.

And how with a phone call, she can get wines in front of famous wine critics who can make or break a brand.

Julie Glenn and I recently sat down with her for an episode of our Grape Minds Podcast, where she shared some of her journey over some new wine releases.


Hope you enjoy the conversation as much as we did. Please subscribe to Grape Minds. It's not a stuffy wine podcast by any means.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Good to Grill at The Melting Pot



It's been years since I've sat down for a dining experience at The Melting Pot, but I did just that with a group of fellow food writers and enthusiasts last week to check out the fondue restaurant's new tabletop grilling feature.

The Melting Pot is known for its interactive dining around bubbling cauldrons of goodness, which famously includes decadent melted cheese accompanied by a tray of crudité, bread, and apples for dipping. That's precisely where we began the evening.

Mixing the cheese for our first course
The cheese fondue we enjoyed was mixed in a base of white wine, garlic, and vegetable bouillon. Our server added a dollop of cream cheese and waited for it to melt appropriately before adding Wisconsin cheddar and Emmenthaler.


Before mixing and stretching for effect, a sprinkling of black pepper and black truffle salt was added. Our server kept a close eye on temperature to ensure the cheese maintained the appropriate texture and level of heat; no rooftop burns thank you. It was delightfully good and hard to stop eatting, especially with the chunks of pretzel bread. The next day had me thinking about the unlimited cheese and chocolate fondue offered at the bar for happy hour...hmmmmm.

After a fresh salad with strawberries and goat cheese, a cast iron grill was placed on the burner in the middle of the table for the debut of the new cooking style. We had an entree combination course of garlic pepper angus sirloin, peppercorn filet, and sweet and spicy shrimp.

Steak and shrimp seasoned and ready for the grill
The entrees come with a plate of vegetables that includes asparagus, zucchini, and mushroom caps, and sampling dishes of six signature sauces for dipping and mixing at will: gorgonzola, green goddess, spicy cocktail, mild curry, teriyaki, and ginger plum.

Tabletop grilling in progress
We were given suggestions and instructions, including precautions on transferring the raw meat, and then left to our own creativity and cooking styles. The meat was tender, the seasoning so good it was almost a shame to experiment with the flavorful sauces but we did anyway.

When we flipped over the mushroom caps, we filled them with green goddess for a flavorful treat. The cooking time was quick, except for the vegetables, and placing only a couple of protein items on the grill at a time ensured they stayed the optimal temperature for eating.

Traditionally, guests at The Melting Pot choose between fondue pots filled with various broths and oils for cooking vegetables and meats. While it's not fondue, there is something about the grill that is fun to watch and feels healthful. It did get a little smoky for us at one point and our server adjusted the grill temperature to help.

The last of the four course dining experience was the famous dessert fondue. The  menu has a number of options or you can create your own combination. Ours was White Chocolate Strawberries Foster.

A dash of cinnamon adds sparks to the White Chocolate Strawberries Foster Fondue.
I can still smell the white chocolate, dulce de leche, strawberries, and cinnamon combo. The addition of the cinnamon after a dash of alcohol produced festive sparks; perfect for Instagram stories.

One of my favorite things about dining here is that things are not rushed. It's a place that fosters conversation, it's fun, it's romantic, it's whatever you want it to be. And the best part, the food is fresh and good.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Pinot Party


I was lamenting last weekend about not being able to attend the fabulous International Pinot Noir Celebration in Oregon, yet again. 

So to sooth my sorrows I decided to host my own pinot party.

It was also a good way to turn a party into a story for my next wine column in the Fort Myers News-Press; Gina Drinks. I opened almost a case of pinot noir, mostly from California with a couple of selections from Chile and New Zealand thrown in for giggles.

My friends actually cooperated quite well, at least in the beginning, offering impressions of the wines, guessing how much they cost, etc. As the night went on, it got a little more difficult and a lot more fun. Thanks to all who participated in helping me with this latest column which you can read here. You'll see I focused on California. With Oregon and Burgundy being the motherships when it comes to pinot, those will come another time. 


Thursday, May 24, 2018

Retired Firefighter Turned Winemaker

Earlier this year I was fortunate enough to attend an epic tasting through 6 decades of Charles Krug Vintage Selection Cabernet Sauvignon in Napa. We started with a 1964 vintage. Did I say epic?

I caught a ride from the airport with Ray Hanson, owner of Destiny Wine Tours. As we chatted it up on the drive from SFO to Napa I learned about his past life as a firefighter and how he now makes wine from the cabernet sauvignon growing on his property.

He was so kind as to give me a bottle to try which I feature in my Memorial Day wine column for the Fort Myers News-Press, "Gina Drinks." Since I have a limited word count, I wanted to share an excerpt from our conversation during our ride.

Not only does Ray talk about his wine, but what it was like as a retired fireman, to go through last year's devastating fires. Take a listen:
 

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

An Afternoon of Drinking with Rob Mondavi Jr

Drinking bubbles with Rob Mondavi Jr in Naples
I recently was privileged to spend an afternoon drinking wine with Rob Mondavi Jr., winemaker at for the family's Michael Mondavi Family Estates in Napa Valley, California.

We tasted through his current releases at The Continental on the famous 3rd Street South in Naples, Fl, over an amazing array of food.





During the course of the tasting Rob sat with us telling stories of the vineyard, the fires, the wines in our glasses and even through the tragic tales, there were lots of laughs. It was also the most beautiful afternoon in Southwest Florida and since we had also shared our mutual love for bubbles, there was no escaping a bottle.

Walking across the street to Sea Salt, where Rob had a wine dinner scheduled later that night, we ordered a bottle of Schramsberg before calling it a day.

Read about Rob's current releases with Michael Mondavi Family Estate and which wines survived the fire here.
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Thursday, January 11, 2018

Wine That Works; New Years Resolutions


Have you made or are you still in the process of making resolutions and setting goals for the New Year. Better health is one of the most popular declarations, loosing weight, eating better, etc. Why do so many people fail? I say it's because while challenging yourself, you still need to be realistic.

You don't have to eliminate wine from your diet. Cut back? Sure. Lower calorie wine options? Even better. And these are actually good...story here from my latest column in the Fort Myers News-Press.

http://www.news-press.com/story/life/food/2018/01/08/gina-drinks-dieting-and-wine-can-coexist-moderation/1011985001/

Friday, November 17, 2017

Roy's Turns Up The Heat As The Temps Drop

When Roy's Restaurant opened in Bonita Springs, it was the first time famed chef and owner Roy Yamaguchi expanded east of the Mississippi River. Over the years, locals have seen dining establishments come and go but this one has managed to not only stay, but improve upon what it made it great to begin with.

While there is always a core when it comes to Roy's cuisine, chef-partners have flexibility to adapt to their markets.

Specializing in Pacific Rim fusion, the restaurant keeps the menu fresh by many means, including consistently introducing new food and drinks to the Aloha Hour menu, and now a three-course Chef's Fall Tasting Menu ($49).

The drinks are festive, tropical, and sweet, but not over the top. Served in a heavy brass pineapple, the substantial Paradise Found is refreshing with vodka, pineapple juice, Monin almond, Angostura bitters, ginger beer and fresh lime ($15). Tiki drinks are the rage and so is the Polynesian Passion: Appleton 12 Year Rum, coconut rum and passion fruit ($12). The aged rum is deceiving, almost bourbon like in this cocktail.

Paradise Found, Pacific Cooler,  Polynesian Passion

The Pacific Cooler has Deep Eddy Ruby Red Grapefruit vodka, elderflower, and fresh strawberries and oranges ($12). One of my favorites is the Charred Lemon Sour ($13): Irish whiskey, lemon, grilled lemon wheel and rosemary.

As for the new tasting menu, it includes things such as the mouthwatering Szechuan Spiced Pork Ribs with meat that falls off the bone, the new spicy and fresh Auntie Lei's Aloha Roll (spicy tuna, cucumber, yellowtail, salmon, avocado garlic ponzu) and the Rock Shrimp Tempura that has the right amount of spice and crunch.

Be sure to dine with friends so you can order all three selections; I can't suggest just one.

Aloha Roll, Szechuan Ribs, Rock Shrimp Tempura

The second course on the tasting menu offers choices that include Braised Short Ribs of Beef that take more than a day to prepare with treatments that include searing, sous vide and more. Served over the most amazing mashed Yukons (and some broccolini to make you feel healthful) it's a home run.

Roy's may delight in the tropical drinks and white wines that often go so well with the many fish dishes here, however, they also have a nice selection of premium red wines. And thanks to the Coravin system, they can offer many of these by the glass. I picked Don Melchior, a Chilean cabernet, for the beef dish and it was outstanding; a great compliment.

If you're into seafood over beef, try the Jade Pesto Steamed Whitefish that comes with baby bok choy or the Georges Bank sea scallops. Perfectly seared scallops are placed over a hearty scoop of forbidden black rice cooked in lobster stock and coconut, the sauce is nearly drinkable.

Roy's has it's own boat in Georges Bank to harvest the succulent scallops which can be delivered several times a week.

Buttered Seared Georges Bank Sea Scallops

The portions are substantial but you'll still be able to manage room for the third course; dessert. The Pineapple Upside Down Care is delightful but I was all about the chocolate and Roy's famous Melting Hot Chocolate Souffle. It's drizzled in a raspberry coulis and served with rich vanilla bean ice cream.

Remember that premium wine list? The glasses come in both three and six ounces, so I ordered a small pour of the well known Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon with this dessert and it was brilliant!
Chocolate Souffle
It's not just the food and drinks that people come to Roy's for, but also the staff.

Having worked for Roy's for a decade, Naples native Ignacio Ortiz had always wanted to be a chef-partner and in Bonita Springs he is. Ortiz is a happy chef who has built solid connections with Managing Partner Tina Norris, the staff and the many regulars who spend many hours with the Roy's family. Both he and Norris make regular rounds to make sure all is well with their guests making this beautiful restaurant feel homey and comfortable.

Put Roy's on your radar this weekend for Aloha hour or the new Chef's Fall Tasting Menu.

One more thing to consider; give up slaving over a hot stove for Thanksgiving and celebrate Aloha style. Roy's is open and cooking up some extra special items including a three course pre fix for $39.95. Make your reservation soon.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Making Dough at MidiCi

The pizza stretching station is one of the first things you see when you walk into the new MidiCi, The Neapolitan Pizza Company, at the Coconut Point Mall in Estero.

Based out of Los Angeles, MidiCi is one of the newest concepts from the brains behind one of the most successful fro-yo franchises, Menchies.

Fort Myers residents Dina and John Wysseier fell in love with the restaurant's mission of bringing friends--and strangers--together. So they brought the restaurant to Southwest Florida, along with much enthusiasm.

The Wysseier's were inspired by the dining experiences they had while living in Europe, where food brought people together, even strangers. The have a board by the entrance (another on wall space by the bathrooms) intended to make it easier to meet fellow diners, or at least open their minds to the concept. 





Polaroid cameras are kept at the counter to document your dining experience. Take the photos with or leave them in a frame by the door.



The most notable signature of MidiCi restaurants is a live olive tree, the tree in Estero is in the center of the restaurant, Yes it is real.



The concept is fast/fine dining. You order at the counter, but it's not like any pizza counter you've likely seen. The line starts where the dough is stretched and tossed; the flour imported from Italy. Order one of the classics, a specialty pizza, or pick from the ingredients in the condiment station.



Gluten free diners will be glad to know MidiCi has it, GF crust...and it's GOOD. I sampled it along with a pesto pizza, a meat pizza, the double pepperoni and the devil's pizza. The crust snob in me was very happy; it was light, crisp where it was suppose to be.

The two pizza ovens weigh some 3 tons each, they were shipped from Italy and seasoned over several days. You can see the flames from almost any seat in the house. They are like pieces of art.


Other special equipment includes a fly wheel prosciutto cutter that cuts the meat in perfect ribbons. Aged for 18 months, the prosciutto is then used on beautiful cheese plates, in salads and on pizzas. The ingredients here are top quality.


For diners looking for something green, the salads are fresh, big, plentiful and numerous.

Be sure to save room for dessert, the signature dish being the Nutella calzone with fresh berries. You'll need a nap after this one. Gelato and sorbetto are good if you're looking for a lighter option.


The coffee bar has almost everything you could want; they even offer gourmet teas. The Italian cream sodas are to die for and the beer and wine selection is on point, better than most pizza joints for sure. But then again, you might expect this after stepping through the door and seeing the kind of attention to detail that goes into making MidiCi special.



Thursday, October 12, 2017

BRAVO Cucina Amps It Up For Fall

It's fall, hurricane Irma recovery is making progress, Bravo Cecina is not only open, the menu is full of new happy hour, brunch and seasonal menu items.

I love brunch and was hoping to make it for the new crepes (chef Raul Rodriguez loves them) but it was happy hour that got me first, one of my favorite times of the day. From 3:30-6:30 you can enjoy $5 cocktails (like the midnight mojito with strawberry and blackberry) and new, chef inspired bar bites.

Stuffed Banana Peppers
One of my faves was the stuffed banana peppers ($7.99). Halved and roasted, they are stuffed with mild sausage and cheese mix of mozzarella and provolone mixture; creamy, spicy, and hard to eat just one.

The table as a whole could not get enough of the shrimp bruschetta appetizer (13.99) on ciabatta bread with a borsin cheese spread. It's substantial and the creamy, herbal cheese adds an extra special touch.

Pepperoni Cheese Dip
Pizza is an American favorite and I could eat it everyday, in fact we had one here. It had burrata, mozzarella, provolone, garlic roasted pesto, prosciutto, and arugula with fennel seed. It had a touch of sweetness to balance the salty meat.

Not all pizza crusts are as good as this, therefore I have been known to mutilate a slice by taking the toppings off and eating them solo; the dough left behind in a sad heap. So  the new pepperoni cheese dip sounded like a dream. It's hot and deliciously gooey with cream cheese, mozzarella, provolone, parmesan and pepperoni; pizza toppings.

Cod Fresca
New seasonal entrees include balsamic chicken with orzo, farro, zucchini, red peppers, feta and asparagus. and also the harissa grilled shrimp. This shrimp dish also has orzo, farro, zucchini, red peppers, feta, but with the addition of arugula and red pepper aioli; a more than pleasing combo

The cod fresca ($18.49) completely won me over. I felt healthy just by looking at it. Things that look good for you don't always taste so good but that is definitely not the case here. The 6-ounce piece of fish is pan seared then placed over green beans, zucchini, tomato, orzo and faro in a lemon butter sauce, then topped with cucumber relish.

Chef Rodriguez was so enthusiastic about the new caramel mascarpone cheese cake (6.99), how could we say no? Dense and delicious it was a delightful finish.

Caramel Mascarpone Cheesecake 
Chef Rodriguez runs the kitchen with skill, he has been with the company for 10 years and likes the family atmosphere. About the new additions, he is a fan of the cod fresca as well, and likes how the menu has been simplified. He says, "Now there are lots of light choices and I'm happy about that."

The restaurant decor has also been freshened. It is still Tuscan but with a modern touch.

The staff is welcoming and the servers know the dishes well, helping diners navigate with ease. Whatever you do, try the new menu items at BRAVO Cucina before they go out of season.


Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Sanibel Travels to the Fort, Summer Wine Dinner

Now that season is over, and things on Sanibel Island are slowing down a bit, chef and restauranteur Melissa Talmage of Sweet Melissa's fame, is able to cross the causeway and hang out in Fort Myers for a night.

But she won't exactly be taking time off. Talmage is hosting a pop up dinner at Harold's. The talented chef is not only pairing her creative dishes with wine but specialty cocktails for an evening of food, fun and friends ($88). The four course meal without beverage pairings is $56.

Each course has several choices rather than just one. The second course consists of NOLA style shrimp and grits, steamed mussels or beef tartare. Course number three; fish stew in tomato saffron broth, roasted lamb chop, grilled smoked beef tenderloin or pan seared cobia with banana lentils. The only bad thing about this dinner is having to choose just one item in each course.

Seatings are at 5:30 and 8:00. Harold's is a small place and there are only a a few seats left, so make a reservation ASAP for the June 25 soiree. 239-472-1956



In other summer wine dinner news, the TasteMaker Dinner at Ruth's Chris Steakhouses nationwide last week featured some beautiful wines from the award winning Chateau Montelena. I attended one in Bonita Springs.

At this dinner, some of the wines poured were those that most of us would never have had access to unless physically visited the winery. A Potter Valley Riesling (slightly viscous but crisp with the food) for the first course was paired with a sesame grilled chicken and udon noodle salad. Thumbs up around the table.

Above is the second course; seared scallops in citrus bacon buerre blanc--I wanted to lick the plate. It was artfully and perfectly served with a 2014 Napa Valley Chardonnay; a Burgundian style wine, kissed with oak not drowning in it.

The zinfandel below was served with a hearty, Portuguese white bean and chorizo stew. The wine comes from 120 year old vines and pays homage to the chateau's labels from the 1920's. The combination of old vine zin and newly planted primitivo creates a velvety wine with dark fruit, tobacco and chocolate.


No dinner at Ruth's Chris would be complete without a succulent piece of meat. Ours was a petite filet mignon with cipollini ragout and a cauliflower mash. Pulled out of the vault and shipped special for this event, the 2006 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon had wild berries, soft tannins and opened nicely the more it sat in the glass...I wish I had more.


Dessert was indeed a treat. A teeth staining, winery release only, the Napa Valley Petite Sirah was lovely with the chocolate dacquoise torte, with praline crunch.

Manager Peter Hyzak, Gina Birch and General Manger Aleks Kunov
The staff at Ruth's Chris is known for professionalism and this dinner was a great example. Peter and Aleks (above) are not only professional, but also fun. The next nationwide TasteMaker Dinners are in August (Champagne) and October (Marchesi Antinori). Cheers.


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