Thursday, May 24, 2012

Unplugged and Uncorked

I've tasted his wines, listened to his CD's but finally got to hear Paul Cullen perform live last night at Twisted Vine Bistro in downtown Fort Myers, FL

Cullen, the former bassist for Bad Company, not only makes great music but delicious wine. I reviewed his Sonata Bianco and Sonata Rosso here, for an upcoming article in Times Of The Islands magazine and was really looking forward to trying his Rose' and the yet to be released Jazz Freak.

Cullen has combined his love of wine and music into a venture called "Unplugged And Uncorked". He travels the country selling his wine and playing his music at various wine events. The new tunes are perfectly suited for sipping.

Cullen is long-time friends with the new owners of Twisted Vine, so it was an obvious choice for a wine dinner. We began with passed appetizers and a crisp, Sparkling Rose'. The first seated course featured succulent PEI Mussels in a garlic sauce with Sonata Bianco; a Sauvignon Blanc blended with a bit of Chardonnay to, as Cullen says, "give it a nice round bottom."  His hand gestures suggested grabbing one. The wine was acidic with apricots and when tasted after the mussels, had a nice spice.

I could hardly wait to try the beautiful, pink Sonata Rose', served with Pasta Pomodoro. The pasta was fresh and dressed with basil picked from Twisted Vine's new herb garden. The Rose' is a blend of Petit Syrah and Fiano. I got a bit of mint in the nose but not much else. It was dry and delicious with a some spice, cardamom and strawberry. Enjoyable pairing!

However, my favorite pairing of the night was the Sonata Rosso with a Pork Osso Bucco. The wine is a balanced blend of Syrah, Zinfnadel and Cabernet Franc with flavors of clove and red fruit. It was beautiful with the salt and fat of the pork. The Osso Bucco was cooked in a savory broth with fennel, artichoke rustica and plum tomatoes. The flavors exploded, the meat fell off of the bone. BRAVO!

Jazz Freak is Cullen's latest wine, a Barbera from the Sierra Foothills. It was juicy and tart, yet smooth. I was happy with it on it's own but wasn't about to turn down the dessert that came with it; Tiramisu in thin lovely layers. It was a creamy and delicious finale.

Cullen will be back at the Twisted Vine, performing live, Saturday night (5/26). Ask for his wines when sit down to dine!

Check out some some of my interview with Cullen here:

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Music and Wine at Twisted Vine

Former Bad Company Bassist, turned wine maker and guitar player, Paul Cullen, is making a swing through his old stomping grounds in Southwest Florida this week.

I was fortunate enough to taste Cullen's wine and interview him for Times Of The Islands, the issue will be on news-stands in July. I also blogged about Sonata wines here, all but the Rose' which I'm hoping to taste this week. In addition, Cullen is debuting a brand new wine on his visit; Jazz Freak, a Barbera from the Sierra Foothills.

Cullen and his wine will be featured at a special dinner Wednesday (5/23) at Twisted Vine in downtown Fort Myers. Thursday (5/24) he'll be performing at Yabo, on the way to the islands and back at Twisted Vine Saturday (6/26) night.

Support live music, local restaurants and great wine!
Click here for more info on Cullen's appearances this summer.

You can find a review of the wine dinner here.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Spreading the "Love"

One of the great things about being an adult is being able to eat dessert for dinner. (Thanks Sharon Arnold). That's exactly what I did last night at the media reception for Artisan Gelato by Norman Love.

The world-famous chocolatier now has a gelato  shop next to his Chocolate Salon and Artisan Bread shop in Fort Myers, FL. Love confessed last night, out of all of the sweet treats he is surrounded by, ice cream is his weakness.

I always knew that gelato had less fat than ice cream but since it was so much more creamy, I never really knew why. First of all, gelato is made from milk not cream, so it has half the butter fat. If it has half the fat, why is gelato so much more creamy and packed with flavor than ice cream? The later is whipped and filled with air in the churning process to make it feel and taste lighter; that also dilutes the flavors.

Love is picky about his ingredients, importing his pistachios and hazelnuts from Italy. He makes gelato in the Italian tradition, fresh everyday. He even brought in special equipment like a pasteurizer and the only Irinox flash freezer in the state; taking the gelato to 40 degrees below zero.

The gelato at Norman Love's has a 48 hour life span; its meant to be eatten as soon as it's made. Feeling the pressure I tried as many flavors as I could in an attempt to save the frozen decadence from meeting an uncivilized demise down the drain; Coconut, Peanut Butter Crunch, Hazelnut, Pistachio, Tiramisu, Mango Sorbetto, Mint Chocolate, Almond Mocha. Please don't ask me to pick a favorite.

The Gelato bowls start at $4.50, the cones at $5. You can also indulge in shakes, sorbetto frizzantes, coffees sundaes, cakes and crepes and waffles OH MY. Now that the gelato shop is running, Love says look for ice cream cakes full of gourmet goodness, grab and go pints and jarred toppings.

It's a must stop for a cool indulgence this summer!

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Tasting Tequila

Agave Southwestern Grill in Naples has some serious tequila bragging rights. With more than 200 tequilas on the menu, owners claim its the largest selection in the state.

Just recently, Agave debuted their new signature tequila, Herradura Double Reposado Tequila and I was among the first to try it. I could taste the wood from the barrel (both barrels) that the spirit was aged in, along with some vanilla. It was warm, spicy and delicious.

Restaurant owners and beverage distributors traveled to Herradura's distillery in Mexico where they sampled tequila from three different barrels before picking the one, exclusive to Agave. The 100% Blue Weber Agave Tequila was "rested" in toasted oak barrels for 11 months, then aged an additional month in new oak to round out the flavors.

Only one barrel of this tequila was bottled for Agave. Once it's gone, it's gone. So get in there fast to try it out. By the way, the food at Agave is great too. More on that later!

***COMMENTS: Thanks to all my Facebook friends for posting so many great comments. I would LOVE it if you could also post your comments here on this blog site. Many people tell me they posted and it never showed up. Disappointing for us both. So click comment, type your comment, be sure to fill in the box that says "comment as" then hit post. If a word verification box does not appear next (a scrambled word to retype) your comment did not post. Thanks! 

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

A BLT With A Twist

There are a handful of restaurants/bars in my city that not only serve up great food, drinks and a good time, but that also give me great comfort. I can go in at any time, with anyone or by myself, with or without makeup and feel good. I'm hearing the theme song from the TV show Cheers,  "Where everybody knows your name, and they're always glad you came." We all have those places. Although I don't frequent it as much as I used to, University Grill in Fort Myers has always been there for me.

There's something almost soothing about sitting down at the bar after a long day, having someone know your drink and put it in front of you almost before you have a chance to ask. I needed that on a particular night last week. I also needed an appetizer.

Chef Eddie Vozzella happened to peak out of the kitchen at the right time; first to give me a bear hug, second to suggest his special BLT Scallops. They are a regular special that I seem to have missed out on over the years. The scallops are perfectly grilled, delicately cut in half, then filled with bacon, lettuce and tomato. The perfect bites are then placed on an herb mayo and balsamic glaze.

This dish may not always be on the menu but if you find yourself at the University Grill, perhaps before a show at the Barbara B Mann Performing Arts Hall, ask if chef can whip one up for you.

As you can see by the before and after shot on my iPhone, I didn't like this dish at all. Now if you'll excuse me while I finish licking the plate.....

Monday, May 7, 2012

We're Not Playin'....We're Tastin'

Last week I previewed the "Cupcake and Cupcakes" event I got to host at The Firepit City Grill at Gulf Coast Town Center in Estero, FL. Cupcake Vineyards sampled nine different wines, paired with real cupcakes and live music. Wine, desserts, music, a doesn't get much better.

Another wine-loving friend accompanied me, ready to try EVERYTHING. We were given strategic seats outside, near the tasting table and right along the walk-way. When our server showed up with a tray of eight glasses, you should've seen the looks from those walking by and those sitting around us. I turned to a neighboring table and said, "We're not playin', we're tastin'....this is how you taste wine!" Lined up side-by-side, we started with the whites: Reisling, Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Angel Food and Moscato.

The Reisling was a bit effervescent with pineapple. Also a bit effervescent was the Pinot Grigio; tropical with a hint of ginger. The Moscato was full of peach and citrus and went well with the desserts. My favorite was  the Sauvignon Blanc, crisp and lemony. I really wanted to like the Angel Food, a Chardonnay blend, but it didn't do it for me, it might work for you though. On second thought, it did work with the spicy chicken lettuce wraps. All are good for the hot, Southwest Florida summer.

The reds were next: The Pinot Noir smelled a bit like bacon, who doesn't love that? The Merlot had some cocoa, the Cabernet Sauvignon was full of tart cherries and the Red Velvet blend was full of dark fruit but not as jammy as I had anticipated. It's the vineyard's first red blend and it DID go well with the red velvet cupcakes.

If you happen to be in the area, the Firepit is running a special on Cupcake wines for the entire month of May, $5 glasses and $20 bottles. Thanks to Beverage Underground for a great event!

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Singin' and Dancin' With Gavin

I've had the pleasure of meeting singer Gavin DeGraw and hearing him live on several occasions. Not only is he great live, he is always gracious with his fans both on and off stage. When he was added to the cast of "Dancing With The Stars" this season, I committed to not only watching the show but actually voting (for him of course). Each week I watched him navigate his way around Tango's and Jive's, bless his heart. He wasn't the best dancer technically but he always gave a good, entertaining performance. I talk to him about the show and his new music here. Listen to the interview, then watch the hot video he talks about.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Biltmore and Bubbly

There are certain things about me that are all girl; my love of shoes, purses, fashion and things that match.

During some spring cleaning in my kitchen and pantry, I came across boxes of dishes, tea cups and saucers; decorated with these feminine accessories. I've always wanted to use them for a tea-party, so that's exactly what I did. More on that to come.

I'm not sure that it is "proper" to serve bubbly at afternoon tea in England, however, it's improper NOT to serve it at my house; regardless of the occasion.

I decided to welcome my guests with a glass of  Biltmore Estate Blanc de Blancs. The wine is bottled in Napa Valley for the famous Biltmore Estate in Asheville, North Carolina. The Chateau-style mansion screams sophistication and tradition. I could just see women in hats and beautiful dresses, enjoying afternoon tea on the lawn, back in the day (1800's). So it seemed natural to start my affair with this wine. 

My guests dressed to impress, wearing flirty high heels and fashionable hats. Some even wore gloves while sipping the Blanc de Blanc, made of Chardonnay grapes from the Russian River Valley. They were all surprised at the Biltmore label, apparently not expecting to find it outside of the estate. The wine was smooth, several girls said "like honey". Not only did I smell the honey but I tasted it. Nicely balanced with a little lemon, acidity and just a hint of yeast; the wine was perfect for Sunday sipping. I thought it went exceptionally well with my spicy crab and cucumber appetizer. The finish was pleasant, the wine passed!

Nice to know that for my next swanky soiree I can find Biltmore for a mere $25 at several major, local retailers. Give it a pour and tell me what you think. Better yet, send directions. I'll put on my Sunday Best and  taste with you!