Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Bubbly By Moonlight

Did you see the lunar eclipse this week? Spectacular! Since an event like this hasn't happened in nearly 500 years it was cause for celebration in my neighborhood and around the world. What does one drink at 2am, outside under the stars, watching an historic full moon lunar eclipse? Bubbles of course!!!

Snuggled under blankets next to my favorite neighbors, I popped the cork of a French Veuve du Vernay and watched Mother Nature put on a spectacular show. The bubbly was light with lots of pear. Other than watching an eclipse in the middle of the night it would be perfect poolside, for a girl's weekend or mimosa's. Consider it for your New Year's Party.  It's not gonna knock you over with complexity but it's a fantastic value at around $10 a bottle!!

I'll never forget drinking it under the stars, making wishes on the shooting ones and watching the moon turn red with my dear friends! That's what bubbly is all about!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Southwest Florida Loses A Gem

Sad week for wine lovers in Southwest Florida, Austin’s Wine Cellar is closing after 24 years in business at the same location. Frank Pulice has owned the store for the past 7 years and made the difficult decision to shut the doors due mostly to increasing competition from corporate stores and the Internet.

I hate to see any small business close but especially one with a purveyor that has expertise like Frank. He has an impeccable pallet and superb knowledge of wine. Sometimes I would walk in and say "give me something I've never had before" and he somehow knew exactly what I wanted even though I had no idea. I loved watching the wheels turn in his head when I would come to him with a menu or dish and ask for help finding a great bottle (or two) that would go with crazy combinations of flavors!” He never failed me!

Over the years Frank has exposed me to red wines from Israel, sparkling wine from Tanzania, little known grapes from Italy, small production wines in the US and everything in between. I’ve met wine-makers, wine-distributors, wine-lovers and made lots of friends around the wine racks in his cozy shop!

Thank you Frank for educating me, for entertaining me and for being a friend to me! I’ll raise a glass to your new endeavors and look forward to uncorking more treasures with you, just in a different venue! Cheers!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Hotspot for 2011???

Iblinked my eyes for a moment last night and thought I was in Manhattan. People were standing outside of La Trattoria Café Napoli in their jackets and scarves, smoking. Inside it was a dark and cozy with all 10 tables filled. On the other side of a new dividing wall: fresh paint, trendy lighting and a live Cuban band

The long awaited expansion of Café Napoli opened last night for a private party. Yes, I crashed it! By the end of the night my belly was filled with phenomenal food and tasty wine. My soul was filled with the fellowship of good friends, great music and even a little dancing on a Monday night!

The tiny restaurant is tucked in the barely visible Villas Plaza on US41 in Fort Myers just south of Crystal Dr. It used to be owned by a lovely Italian couple that made you feel like you were eating in their home. Now it’s owned by a feisty Cuban woman, Gloria Jordan, who still makes you feel like you are in her home. The menu is a fabulous fusion of Italian, Cuban and Spanish food.

Gloria has taken over the space next door to double her capacity. Don’t worry, the charm of the restaurant has not been comprised. The new space is a Tapas Bar separated by a low dividing wall. It’s like old world meets new world.

Right now the Tapas Bar is only open for special events. It will be ready for the public after the holidays and I predict it will be a HOT spot in 2011! Keep the live music Gloria!

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Best Idea Ever!!!

Here's a question. Would you spend $25 to taste over 80 wines and sample gourmet appetizers? No brainer right?? Cru at The Bell Tower Shops in Fort Myers had one of the most productive and fun wine events I've been to in a long time. Productive because they sampled EVERY bottle on their wine list with the distributors on hand to give invaluable information about the wine, vitner, etc.

Sometimes a girl just feels bubbly and wants a glass of it. There is nothing worse than cheap, by the glass champagne. Cru now has a Graham Beck Brut Rose by the glass that is very nice. Here's a surprise, it's from South Africa!

Some of the best bargains by the bottle were: NXNW Cabernet Sauvignon ($38), Belle Glos Pinot Noir ($38) and the Puro Uno Quattro Limitado ($65). The Forman Cab is on the list for $135 and now I know why! It is amazing!

What a great tool for any restaurant! Invite your patrons, open your bottles and let the tasting do the selling for you. I found great bargains by the bottle that I may never have even given a second look at until last night.

I wish it would be SOP for all fine dining establishments to have an event like this. Educate your clientele and your staff at the same time, talk about a win/win!

Friday, December 10, 2010

Getting Sassy At Sasses

Italian wine can be tricky. There are over a thousand varietals so it's not uncommon to come across something you may never have heard of before, like the Aglianico. It's an ancient grape from southern Italy that doesn't get much attention.

I gave it lots of attention during a fabulous dinner at Sasse's in Fort Myers. Its color was rich, the nose complex and it tasted plumy, juicy with tannins that developed nicely throughout the evening. What a great pairing with the Veal Scallopini (topped with sun dried tomatoes and fresh sage).

When I first moved to Fort Myers we nicknamed Sasse's the "Pasta Nazi" after the famous Soup Nazi from the TV show Seinfeld. The original owner would close when he wanted, served who he wanted and didn't give a damn what you thought about any of it! The stories are too numerous and infamous to even begin to mention.

Times have changed and gracious owners Jerry and Barbara Snyderman sip wine while wandering from table to table as if hosting a dinner party in their private home. The food is full of flavor, the portions are more than generous, the wine list is adventurous and affordable making it one of the best culinary finds in town!

The restaurant isn't much to look at from the outside. It's in a strip mall off the beaten path on Evans Avenue. You will probably drive by it the first time. My favorite part of the interior is the barrel room. It used to house a wine-making operation and now serves as a private dinning area perfect for parties and special events. Leave your credit cards at home, cash is king at Sasse's and you'll feel like one when you leave!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Expectations Too High???

A work event took me to Punta Gorda last Friday night so I decided to explore the downtown area while I was there. My co-worker and I stumbled upon a small parade and bringing up the rear was Santa in a convertible. “Cool”, I thought, “I get to see the city’s tree lighting!” Perfect timing!

The downtown area was so quaint and the streets were crowded with young, old, white-collar and blue-collar types. It was a little chilly for Southwest Florida so we thought a nice dirty martini would warm us up.

Jack’s Restaurant looked impressive on the corner of West Marion and Taylor and I was familiar with the Caribbean duo entertaining customers on the patio so we weaved our way inside to a bistro table in the bar.

I know it was a busy Friday night, however: we waited so long for the server to come back with menu’s that I finally got up to get them; we could see our glasses sitting at the end of the bar as server after server picked up their orders (perhaps it seemed so long because we were thirsty?) my dirty martini came with no olives; my co-workers Corona did not have a lime (I thought these were standard accoutrements); our server was buzzing around so many different places we had to wave her down to place an order.

We had the Tuna Poke and a delicious goat cheese appetizer with warm macadamia nuts and Apricot Coulis. The food was great, we may’ve stayed longer and ordered more but thought it would take all night. I checked reviews online and all were consistently good about the food with just a few digs at the service. I talked to some locals later who said Jack’s was not necessarily known for service but for a decent food and a good time. OK, I’m always up for a good time! I guess I was expecting all of the above.

I’m not trashing the place! I would go back! I bring this up because of the conversation on the drive home. What are reasonable expectations for good service? How long is acceptable for a customer to wait for a menu if they seat themselves in the bar? If a server knows they are over their head should they ask someone else to take a table (our server admitted she was also taking care of some regulars who asked for her). Is it reasonable to expect a dirty martini to have olives and a Corona to have a lime?

OK, discuss……

Monday, November 15, 2010

Chateau Montelena Wine Dinner

How does a fine dining establishment pull off a high-end wine dinner for 100 people after a natural gas explosion miles away shuts down their kitchen? I don't how Bistro 41 made it happen but they did and without a hitch, at least from the patrons point of view!

George Blanckensee, Marketing Director from Chateau Montelena in California, has lots of ties to Southwest Florida and was the man of the hour when he arrived with the a wine that rarely leaves California, the 2009 Sauvignon Blanc. Only 500 cases were made and we drank one prior to sitting down to the five course dinner.

First course: Braised pork belly over caramelized apple sauerkraut served with a 2009 Potter's Valley Riesling. The wine had lots of acid but was still flowery with peach and melon on the finish. Only 1500 cases were made. Combined with the fatty pork and bold apple sauerkraut it was rich and delicious.

Second course: Arugula with Dijon vinaigrette, topped with St Andre cheese, candied tomatoes and hearts of palm served with an '08 Chardonnay. It was not a typical California Chardonnay full of oak. It was brighter but still rich and for me was better with the delicious salad than on it's own. I was told the chef cooked those candied tomatoes for 5 hours at low heat, wow!

Third course: Au Poivre Diver Scallops over wild mushroom thyme grits and a beurre rouge served with the 2007 Zinfandel. The scallops were cooked perfectly! The Zin was soft and elegant, not an alcohol bomb like many can be. It was smokey and jammy and had yummy cocoa. I was surprised at how well it went with the dish and was curious to see how it would pair with the next course. So I saved a little, hard as it was.

Fourth course: Oak grilled Colorado Lamp Chop with a melange of roasted butternut squash and rutabagas topped with foie gras butter and served with the 2006 Estate Cabernet. This is Chateau Montelena's flagship Cabernet and it never disappoints. It's Bordeaux-style with more fruit than oak, earthy and goes down with ease! Great with the lamb! By the way, the Zin was good with it too!

Fifth course: Tart trio of strawberry, Maytag bleu cheese and dark chocolate served with a 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon. This was like "playtime"! I took a sip of wine after a bite of each tart, then I combined all three tarts in one perfect bite, then just the cheese and chocolate, then the chocolate and fruit and by now you get the picture. Each combination was fantastic with the wine. What a great way to experiment with flavors. Quote of the night: "This is the Cab that I wish for and think of" (when wanting a good Cabernet)!

The pairings brought out so many wonderful flavors, the enthusiasm was bursting, the company was incredible, the service was impeccable, the chef's outstanding and to pull off a meal like this in the midst of a crisis that later shut down the restaurant (and hundreds of others) was more than impressive! Bravo!!!

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Viva Italia Part II

I have delayed long enough in continuing my ravings from the Kobrand and Republic National Italian wine tasting I went to last month. I honestly didn't know where to start so lets go right for the top!

Sassicaia! It's considered to be one of Italy's leading Bordeaux-style red wines and it is delicious! I tried the newly released 2007 vintage of this Super Tuscan gem that received 95 points by the Wine Advocate. (All of the wines in this blog have ratings of  over 90 points!) It's still a little tight and takes awhile to open but it definitely lives up to it's reputation!

For a 1/3 of the price and just a couple of points shy of Sassicaia I found the 2004 Tenuta La Fuga Brunello di Montalcino, Le Due Sorelle. I was told that this may be the first time this wine has been distributed to Florida. It was a beautiful deep ruby color with flavors of berries, a little chocolate and yes, leather. I wanted to be alone with it for a few minutes.

Some other outstanding Italian reds to look for right now are the 2004 Castello del Terriccio, Lupicaia. The wine is mostly Cabernet Sauvignon with some Merlot and Petit Verdot to round it out. It's limited, it's over $100, it's big and balanced, it has lots of layers and it's delectable. I think it could use another couple years in the cellar. A little more moderately priced is the 2008 Tenuta Sette Ponti Crognolo. It's a Sangiovese blended with a little Merlot that is juicy with black fruit and soft tannins.

One final nugget to leave you with: 2007 Tenuta Sette Ponti Oreno. This bad boy made the Wine Spectator's Top 100 List! The blend of Sangiovese, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon is dark and dense. I smelled a bit of blueberry and tasted alot of dark fruit with some coffee on the finish. Nice layers that once again will make this wine age nicely!

The wines of Sette Ponti are all fabulous!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Halloween Wine

Have you ever bought a bottle of wine simply because of the label? You have absolutely no knowledge of what is on the inside and probably don't care because the label speaks to you or to a specific occasion. I had a pumpkin carving party last night and someone brought a bottle of "Trick" wine! What a perfect gift for a Halloween Party!

I found out that Trick is bottled exclusively for World Market. It's a red table wine and it goes well with the pizza! That's about all I have for you on this one. It wont knock your socks off but for $8 it is a GREAT bottle to bring to your Halloween Parties this weekend.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Bye Bye Bitch

I was so disappointed to learn this week that one of my favorite fun winemakers is out of business, Grateful Palate Airwines. The company not only produced good affordable wine but it was some of the most cleverly packaged

The Boarding Pass Shiraz had a label that looked like an actual boarding pass complete with a luggage tag around the neck and directions on how to enjoy the ride (or consumption) on the back.  

Perhaps the bottle that got the most attention was the Bitch Grenache. The word Bitch was in lovely, black script writing across a light pink label. Appropriately enough it came in a screw cap. The wine was a bit spicy with fruit on the finish…the “Bitch” was tasty. But she’s gone. I know there are bottles of both out there somewhere so be sure to buy them if you happen to run across any! Oh, and pick one up for me too!!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

French-"Down Under" Style

It was so nice after a long day of jury duty this week to be greeted by friends tasting a selection of wines from Torbreck. Torbreck is a forest in Scotland where David Powell worked as a Lumberjack before he started producing wine in Australia.

Powell is big on the Barossa Valley but also favors the traditional French winemaking practices of the Northern and Southern Rhône valleys. So here comes a great marriage of old world and new world!

The 2009 Saignee Rose resembles the bone dry Rosés of Provence. It is made from old vine Mataro grapes (you may know the grape better as its French counterpart, Mourvedre). This is another great Florida wine! Serve it chilled with seafood and you've got a hit! It will cost you around $20.

The same grape, Mataro, comes alive in an entirely different way in The Pict 2006! The grapes come from a single vineyard and have been aged to produce a wine that smells like leather and spice and tastes earthy, chocolaty, minerally and tannic. WOW! This wine will age nicely! It will cost you between $145-$160!

I wondered what the name meant so I got online and found The Picts were a tribe of fierce warriors and the first people to inhabit Scotland. The wine is made from Mataro, one of the founding varieties planted in the Barossa. Powell calls it, "A truly rich, wild and untamed wine, enough to satiate a Pictish warrior."

One more Torbreck wine not to miss is the '06 Run Rig. It is deliciously aromatic with lots of layers of flavor. For some reason I'm having trouble reading my tasting notes but there is no mistaking the giant star I put beside it!! This is a big boy! It will run you close to $200!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Viva Italia!

I was recently asked why I like Italian wines, after all they are so foreign! When I say foreign I mean more than just from another country. They are hard to get a grasp on with more than 1000 varietals from dozens of regions. I like Italian wines because they are food wines! No coincidence here but I also like Italian cuisine!

Last night I was invited to taste the Italian wines in Kobrand and Republic National's portfolio. I was in heaven drinking everything from a delicous white Gavi to the king of big reds, Sassicaia!

The '09 Michele Chiarlo Gavi was full of zest and minerals. Gavi is from the Piemonte region and is actually made from the Cortese grape (remember that "foreign" statement made earlier). Another fun white I found was an '08 Campo al Mare, Vermentino di Toscana. The Vermentino was blended with a touch of Sauvignon Blanc to give it a nice crispy finish! Both wines are moderately priced under $20.
There were just way too many outstanding reds to mention and my better judgement says save it for Viva Italia Blog Part II. For once I will listen!

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Goin' Back To Cali

I love a little old school LL Cool J, "Goin' back to Cali, stylin', profilin'...". We worked as hard as we could to be "stylin" in our rented 12-passenger van as we checked into the Avia Hotel in downtown Napa. The Avia is a new boutique hotel on First Street that is within walking distance to great restaurants, bars and tasting rooms.

I don't know if it is inherent because I am a woman but I care about the small things. Like the cozy bed with fluffy down blankets and the fireplace at my feet that lit with the flip of a switch. I loved the big bathroom with lots of counter space and the random tub in the middle of the room with a tray of bath products.....aaaaaahhhhh.

Enough daydreaming, lets get back to the business at hand; WINE! I mentioned there was a tasting room within walking distance to the hotel, Ceja. The Ceja family came to the US from Mexico in the 60's to pursue their winemaking dreams. They now own 113 acres and produce wine that has earned them various titles including "Hottest Small Brand of 2007".

A typical tasting is $10 for four pours. We enjoyed: a 2007 Sauvignon Blanc that was full of guava, papaya and lychee; a 2007 vino de Casa which was a delicious blend of Pinot Noir, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon, full and balanced with ripe plums; a 2007 Pinot Noir that had layers of menthol and dried fruit; a 2006 Sonoma Syrah that exploded with pepper and blackberries, a comfort food wine. Only 575 cases were produced and we bought one of them.

The wines we tasted ranged in price from $20-$40 and all were well worth it! However, it's really hard to find Ceja in Florida. Sorry for the tease. Join the wine club.

The tasting room also offers gourmet foods, cozy seating and engaging art work. In addition Ceja hosts a Salsa night at the neighboring Bistro Sabor on Saturdays. Very cool place to visit.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Don't Cry For Me Argentina

My next wine tasting trip is going to be Argentina! I just attended a Malbec seminar at Austin’s Wine Cellar with adorable winemaker Santiago Mayorga of Mendel Wines. Malbec is the signature red wine of Argentina. All of the red we tried were 100% Malbec with one exception.

We actually started with the Mendel 2010 Semillion. It was a bit surprising since Torrontes is the signature white grape of Argentina. The first things I smelled were pineapple and white flowers. I tasted them too along with a hint of spice. It’s a great wine for Southwest Florida.

The reds were outstanding! We started with a juicy 2008 Lunta that had plum, spice and lots of tannins. Next up was the vineyard's flagship Mendel Malbec (2007). Robert Parker gave it 90 points. It had big ripe fruit and was smoother than the Lunta. The ’06 Unus was next. This Malbec was blended with 30% Cabernet. It had hints of mint and vanilla and when I closed my eyes I envisioned it with lamb.

The best is almost always the last: a 2007 Finca Remota. This wine is not even available yet and was given 94 points just after it was bottled. The grapes came from a single vineyard and there are only 1800 bottles! It smelled like sweet raisins. It tasted like velvet! What a treat!

These reds ranged in price from $22-$110. They were all well worth the money and I would buy any of them! See Frank at Austin’s to get yours!

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Big Dawgs

I’ve tried so many delicious wines this week! Two more big dawgs to tell you about then I’ll let you in on some more affordable and easy to find gems.

Napa is synonymous for great Cabernet’s but have you ever had a blockbuster from Hollister, CA? I just found one, the ’06 Godsend from Leal Vineyards. This limited production Cabernet is from Leal’s Library Collection. The grapes were hand selected and the wine given a little more time in the barrel. The result is a rich, elegant wine with a nice round finish! It will run you about $75 a bottle. Might be a good Christmas gift for someone special. But make sure that special someone shares with you!!

Boyanci is from Napa. Only 360 six bottle cases were produced and the winery is officially sold out. Good luck hunting it down. It’ll cost around $140 but it is worth it! Big ripe fruit, blackberry and light chocolate with great structure! That sounds so official so let me try it this way, it freakin' rocks! The wine is actually a blend of mostly Cabernet with some Syrah Petite Verdot Merlot and Cab Franc. Get on the winery mail list so you can score some of the '07 when it released.

Monday, September 20, 2010

More Than A Mouthful

Thanks to the nice gentleman at the bar in Cru who shared this delicious wine with my friends and me! The 2007 Buccella Cabernet has consistently received ratings in the mid to upper 90’s since its release and now I know why!

The nose was toasty. The wine was full-bodied with some smoke, licorice and black fruit! The finish lingered in luscious layers! I wish I could’ve sipped and swirled a little longer! Like many big Cabernets the flavors were just starting to explode when I got to the bottom of my glass. The wine definitely needs to open so be patient if you buy a bottle. If you can really be patient, cellar it! With more time in the bottle this wine will REALLY knock your socks off!

There were only 1,110 cases produced and a bottle will cost you about $150 retail. Buccella is Latin for “mouthful” and it certainly is!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Cabernet The South African Way

I was having a late dinner last night at Bistro 41 when Kimberly Christenson came bouncing up to the table with a laptop and a bottle of wine. Just having returned from South Africa she was bursting with stories, amazing photos and of course a delicious bottle of wine; a 2006 Cabernet by Rudera.

Always up for trying something new I pushed my glass over for a splash! Kimberly works for Select Brands and was in South Africa on a wine tasting trip, life is rough! She warned us the wine would be a little tight at first and asked us to be patient.

Have you ever been in the kitchen of a Southern woman when she is cooking Sunday dinner? Do recall the smells of vegetables cooking in bacon fat? That’s the first thing I smelled when the wine was first poured. It was also hot on my tongue, not temperature hot. But as it sat in the glass it opened and mellowed and began displaying some of the typical Cabernet traits like tobacco, dark fruit and mocha. I love how wines change and evolve once poured!

Rudera received a 5-star rating from Decanter Magazine. Get a couple of bottles. Drink one and put one up. I can definitely see it aging well

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Glen Ellen Inn

Nothing like a nice big meal following an afternoon of wine tasting! Our party had grown to ten throughout the day so we were a little concerned about finding a locally owned establishment that could accommodate us without a reservation. The staff at Glen Elen Inn didn't even bat an eye when we swept in with our boisterous laughter and empty bellies!

A 10 minute drive from the Sonoma Square, Glenn Ellen Inn is a 1940's wine country cottage with intimate indoor dining and shaded garden tables outdoors. It's known as the "smallest restaurant with the biggest wine list" in Sonoma Valley! Besides having an outstanding wine list, the impressive martini menu also offers mini martini's for those who still have their training wheels on!

There were too many mouth watering creations on the menu to choose just one. I was sitting at the head of the table with Dinah and Heather so we pooled our cravings and had one heck of a feast. We started with a raw oyster sampler. The oysters were a little on the small side but had three different sauces to tempt the taste buds. The Watermelon and Arugula Salad was killer with Pancetta, hazelnuts, Chevre and a Port dressing. The bread basket was hot, fresh and included a slightly sweet scone with a hint of rosemary!

The Spinach & Feta Ravioli was a huge hit with it's chipotle paste and red bell pepper cream sauce! Another big hit was the Chicken Breast. Sounds boring right? WRONG! The chicken was brined in buttermilk and served on sauteed corn succotash with caper lemon cream sauce. Also on the table was a perfectly cooked Halibut with Asian spices and a juicy Kobe Flat Iron Steak!
Fresh, local ingredients were used in all the dishes!

We brought in a couple of bottles of wine from our purchases earlier in the day and for a small corkage fee were able to enjoy them with dinner!

If you travel to Sonoma and need a place to stay, the Glen Ellen Inn really is an "Inn"! There are so-called secret cottages just steps from the restaurant. They have fireplaces, Jacuzzi tubs and are situated along a creek. Don't miss this gem of a place for lunch or dinner during your Wine Country travels!

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Charles Creek

The Charles Creek Vineyard tasting room is on the plaza in downtown Sonoma and it's open late! I've had Charles Creek in the past but wasn't really that familiar with all the winery had to offer. Gracing the middle of the tasting room was Ms Moo-lot; a giant cow made of corks. Talk about a conversation piece!

We started with an '08 Rose that was a crazy blend Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon with some Syrah, Merlot, Petit Verdot, White Riesling and Grenache. It was raspberry and cherry and delicious! Don't be scared to drink pink!!

Everyone in our group was keen on the '08 Riesling, a dry wine from El Dorado County chalked full of exotic fruits! We had Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, an award winning Merlot and several others. The other big hit was the La Sonrisa del Tecolote Cabernet. It smelled like figs and tasted like plum and spice. I could also taste some dark chocolate and toasty oak. The name means "The Smile of the Owl" after the winemaker's Grandma! I love anything that pays homage to Grandma's!!!

The bomb was La Bomba Chocolate, a rich port wine of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, fortified with brandy and infused with flavors of dark chocolate. The infusion process is a highly guarded secret. It was chocolate cake in a glass. Someone else referred to it as drinking a Tootsie Roll. Forget the dessert just drink this!

B.R. Cohn

Just around the corner from Valley of the Moon in Glen Ellen is the tasting room for B.R. Cohn. Owner Bruce R. Cohn is the long time manager of the Doobie Brothers so this winery is famous for events that involve live music and other fun! We just missed the Fall Music Festival! Of course the winery has a signature Dobbie Brothers wine. It's called Doobie Red and is a blend made with Bordeaux style varietals. A portion of the proceeds from this $20 bottle go to veteran and other charitable organizations.

2007 produced some great wines in California and all of them we tried at B.R. Cohn are worth purchasing. The Petite Sirah was dark, toasty, spicy and rich with tannins. My favorite of the tasting was the 2007 Petit Verdot. The grapes are grown at the Olive Hill Estate Vineyard and are said to receive "the same care and attention" as B.R. Cohn's well known Olive Hill Cabernet Sauvignon which totally rocked! The Petit Verdot was full of black-cherry and vanilla and got a gold star on my tasting notes!

They were making room for the new vintage and had great sales on these wines by the case. Another fabulous perk for visiting the tasting room in person!

By the way, if you are thinking about a wine country wedding B.R. Cohn hosts them and will soon be home to a culinary center.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Valley of the Moon

I just returned from five days of soaking myself in giant barrels of wine during the first days of harvest in California. Harvesting is late this year because of the cool summer they've had. The grapes have just begun to ripen enough to pick. I was asked why I didn't blog while on the trip. I was so immersed in what I was doing, so caught up in the moment that I just couldn't stop to write. I tasted literally hundreds of wines. So I thought I would blog a little at at time so I don't overwhelm you or myself!

Our first stop after landing at SFO was Valley of the Moon in Sonoma, Glenn Ellen to be specific. When I think of Valley of the Moon I usually think of an affordable, light Pinot Blanc. However, that is just the tip of the iceberg of what the winery has to offer. We started with a Rosato Di Sangiovese that smelled like raspberries. It was hot pink and full of pomegranate, cranberry and citrus. I was surprised at how long the finish was. A great wine for Florida! We tried some delicious sparkling wines, a tobacco filled Barbera, a spicy old vine Zinfandel, Syrah, Cabernets, some blends; about a dozen wines total.

Some of the wines we tried were only available at the winery or through the wine club so I stocked up on those and had them shipped home. Valley of the Moon also bottles Lake Sonoma wines. If you can find the 2007 Alexander Valley Cab you have to get it! It was full of blueberry and cassis, a little cinnamon for some spice and nicely balanced overall! The staff was great and the tasting room had one of the best gift stores! I had no idea Valley of the Moon had so much to offer!

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

A bad day at the beach is better than a good day at work

You've heard the saying before and nothing could be more true, especially if food and wine are involved! Another Women's Wine Dinner on a Tuesday night with torrential rains did not keep more than 100 lovely ladies from crossing the bridge to Bayfront Bistro on Fort Myers Beach for an evening of food, wine, charity and networking! We began the evening with passed appetizers of Bruscetta, chicken Satay, crab cakes and Shramsberg Brut Rose. Seafood was the highlight of the night with the next course being a seared scallop topped with Boursin cheese, Truffled tomato and Montrachet cream sauce. I wanted to lick my plate! It was paired with a Swanson Pinot Grigio full of honey and pear. If you think Pinot Grigio's are on the wimpy side, you haven't tried this one!!

Next was a mixed green salad with roasted roma tomatoes that I could've had entire plate of on their own! The main course was a Poached Triple Tail with a mandarin buerre blanc. The Axis Sauvignon Blanc cut right through that rich sauce with grassy, citrus!

Dessert was a tropical foster mousse served with a Taylor Fladgate First Estate Port. I found some frozen berries in my mousse but the roasted pineapple and creme anglaise made me forget about all my problems.

We kept hoping for a break in the clouds to see the nearly full moon rise over the back bay. No such luck. The setting, the chef, the food and the wine make Bayfront Bisto one of, if not THE BEST places for fine dining on Fort Myers Beach!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Argentina's Flagships

When I think of Argentina I think of Malbec first then Buenos Aires! Malbec is a wonderful grape that is best described as being somewhere between a Cabernet and Merlot as far as taste. I just tried an '08 from Jelu Estates and it was full of black plums and spice. It filled the glass with a beautiful, deep purple color and was moderately tannic. For only $16 it gives a lot of bang for the buck!
Another grape synonymous with Argentina is Torrontes. It has become one of my favorites over the last several years. It's a great alternative to Sauvignon Blanc, a little smoother. The '09 Jelu has won some awards and there is good reason why. The nose is full of honey; the pallet is bright with white peach, lychee and slight acidity. It's another bargain at only $16!

Not only does Jelu Estates make amazing juice but also the owners are environmentally conscious. The wines are all organically grown and winery has gone "green"! No pesticides huh? I think I'll have another glass!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Mi Sueno

I got to drink a bottle of Pinot Noir last night from a little winery in Napa that has a story as big as the flavors in the bottle: a 2007 Mi Sueno Pinot Noir from Russian River. The wine is earthy and full of red fruits. As it opens there is a nice balance of fruit, tannins and oak.

Mi Sueno means my dream in Spanish. Rolando Herrera came to California from Mexico as a boy. His family was searching for a better life. As a teenager Herrera washed dishes at the famed Auberge du Soleil, worked as a “cellar rat” at Stag’s Leap and from there spent the next 20 years learning the ins and outs of the wine business before becoming his own boss. Herrera now owns Mi Sueno and even purchased the winery’s bottling equipment with cash! Talk about a dream! His wines have also been served multiple times at the White House!

Herrera’s wines aren’t always easy to find but they are worth the hunt!!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Austria meets California

Last night I went to a wine tasting at a coffee shop! If you didn't know, Bennett's Fresh Roast in downtown Fort Myers also has a nice selection of beer and wine and occasionally hosts wine events that attract the "see and be seen" crowd. The summer wine soiree featured vintners from Spain, Chile and of course California. One in particular that stood out was a Darcie Kent Gruner Veltiner, Rava Black Jack.

The Gruner Veltiner grape comes from Austria and Darcie Kent claims to be one of the few if not the only winery to grow it in California. The nose was full of lime, the palate was full of minerals and fruit. The two things I pictured drinking this wine with were ceviche and a dessert with white chocolate and keylime! It is definitely food friendly and retails for about $18!

Bennett has never been one to let his guest go hungry so he delighted us throughout the night with cured meats, hummus, impeccable cheese trays and of course his signature donuts!

He rolled out miniature versions of his homemade, hand-cut treats then made sure they were perfectly frosted with chocolate. The wine was great but this is what the crowd had been waiting for! Right out of the fryer and into our mouths! You MUST try these donuts! And while you're there see if Bennett has a bottle of the Domaine Napa Cabernet or the Montgras Carmenere. The chocolate donuts were great with both wines. Yes I had two, they were small!!!

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Women's Wine Dinner: Angelina's

I enjoy getting dressed up and going out in the summer storms in Florida as long as there is valet parking! Last night's torrential downpour did not dampen the spirits of the ladies who attended this month's Women's Wine Dinner at the award winning Angelina's in Bonita Springs. We filled the bar with lively conversation, posed for photos, then filled the private dining room to capacity!

Angelina's is an Italian restaurant so the first course was appropriately enough an antipasto tray filled with cheeses, cured meats, fresh olives and marinated vegetables served with an '08 Icardi, Cortese. I was surprised to find a white wine so full of raisin! I admit that all week I was hoping maybe even praying that this next dish would be served and I was NOT disappointed: Angelina's signature Butternut Squash Ravioli. The ravioli is hand-rolled, filled with roasted butternut squash and mascarpone cheese then topped with a decadent citrus tomato butter. It was exquisitely paired with a 2007 Soave Classico, Monte Grande. "Sexy" was the best description I heard for the dish!

I was also hoping for a nice big Tuscan red and once again my desires were fulfilled with a 2007 Brancaia "Tre". A female winemaker produced this smooth gem and landed in Wine Spectators Top 100 List. The Filet Mignon it was served with had a brilliant red center and was so tender I barely picked up my knife to cut it.

The best pairing was definitely saved for last, a Vanilla-Mascarpone Cheesecake with homemade strawberry jam accompanied by a glass of Brachetto. The wine was a sparkling, pink dessert wine that went down way too easy! Thankfully the bubbles helped to dissipate the sweetness. The last course was pleasing to eye and the palet. It was one of those combinations that danced!

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Kangaroo Chili???

My first experience at judging a Chili Cook-Off was on the beach in July!! Sounds a little out of season but Mother Nature blew some tropical winds our way to cool us down and blow things around quite a bit! After the sand settled the five judges settled in to a banquet table by the pool at the Pink Shell Resort and Spa on Fort Myers Beach. 17 different chili's were brought out one-by-one and passed down the table with lightening speed. We had to score on our first impressions with no information on what was in the chili. Each bowl was rated on things like appearance, smell, consistency, flavor, after-taste, etc.

I tasted spices like cardomon and nutmeg and of course lots of heat! The bowls were creatively adourned with things like hush puppies, queso blanco, sour cream, jalepeno's and scallions. I later learned that I ate chili's made of beef, pork, seafood, sausage, wild boar and KANGAROO!!! I kept eatting when I got home; a handful of Tum's!

The compeitors came from 3 counties. Some were restuarant chefs or employees,some were head chefs in their home but when all was said and done the top prize went to Heath Higginbotham from Bistro 41. His chilli was made with andouille sausage, fresh beans and chocolate! Chocolate, he must've known there would be women on the judge's panel!

The Great American Chili Cook-Off was the first event put on by Southwest Florida's Chapter of the American Culinary Federation. It was also a fundraiser for the Harry Chapin Food Bank! I love a party with a purpose!

Monday, July 19, 2010

Good Grillin'

If you are grilling out this summer, here is a wine that you HAVE to try: 2006 Heartland Shiraz from Dulwich, South Australia. My first impression was BBQ in a glass!!! I closed my eyes and could just see a nice, heaping plate of ribs dripping with tangy BBQ sauce. The wine was smoky, meaty, spicy and with just the right amount of fruit (plum and blackcurrant). I found it this weekend at a tasting at Austin’s Wine Cellar for $18.75! Pick up a bottle and let me know how it goes with your grilled goodies!

Friday, July 16, 2010

When in Rome....

We’ve all heard the saying “When in Rome, do as the Roman’s do”! The Roman’s drink Frascati! Frascati is synonymous with Rome having been produced in the region for nearly 2000 years. It also boasts of being the most often mentioned wine in Italian literature.

I just tasted a delicious 2007 Piero Constantini, Frescati Superiore DOC from Lazio. The blend of Trebbiano and Malvasia grapes produced a light, citrus, floral delight with hints of fig and walnut! You should be able to find it for around $20. It’s a wonderful treat during these hot summer months!