Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Great Times With Pizza and Wines

Last night I attended my second annual pizza and wine pairing at Grimaldi's Pizzeria at the Bell Tower Shops in Fort Myers, FL. The pizza is still as phenominal as last year but the wine list has changed significantly. General Manager Scott Flinn says now I have 50 to choose from; most are available by the glass and half carafe as well as by the bottle.

We started the evening with a crisp, grapefruit filled Girard Sauvignon Blanc ($35) and a Mediterranean Salad. The salty olives and feta, along with the vinegar in the dressing, tamed the acidity in the wine. It was one of my favorite pairings of the night. Perfect for the hot Summer months ahead.

Next up, the star; the pizzas. Flinn began with one of his favorites; roasted red pepper, sausage and ricotta. The ricotta was fresh and creamy, the sausage good and spicy and the roasted red peppers added just the right, sweet touch. As I was looking at the wine list I noticed a bottle that used to be one of my favorites; Caymus Conundrum ($35). After asking Flinn how it was drinking, he said, "You're about to find out." Over the years, the blend has seem to evolve into something sweeter than I prefer and sweeter than what I originally remembered. Maybe I'm the one who has changed, not the wine. Regardless, it was creamy; full of perfume and thick apricot flavors. It was fantastic with the white pizza.

I pointed out another wine on the list; a fun, syrah based blend called Troublemaker ($39). Flinn shook his head and said, "Well you've guessed the next two. Lets see if you can figure out what I'm pouring for dessert." Back to that challenge in a minute. The Troublemaker was peppery but juicy and it was served with pizza #2; meatball, ham, Kalamata olives and a tangy red sauce. We experimented a bit with the olives; they brought out flavors of cocoa in the wine.

Grimaldi's has seasonal cheesecakes and this is the last week for the Baileys in an Oreo crust.. My task was to guess the wine Flinn would pair with this. The pressure was on. I scanned the blends first, then the cabs, the merlots, no, no no. I kept going back to the "Baby Amarone" Palazzo Della Torre ($39). BINGO!!! I earned my pizza and wine stripes!

The made-from-scratch cheesecake was creamy and rich, one of my dining dates called it "the money dish". The wine was not as rich and full of raisins as a "grown up" amarone. It was easy to drink. The dessert brought out the characteristics of cherry and almonds in the wine. Another great combination! Good job Scott!

The new round of seasonal cheesecakes includes Blueberry Cobbler and Strawberry, $5 a slice.

Another summer special beginning in June, "Tasting Tuesday". All bottles and glasses of wines at Grimaldi's (other than house and Sangria) are half-price. The famous pizzeria is continuing expansion projects nationwide. If there is not one near you, look for one while traveling this Summer and treat yourself to some amazing, authentic New York pizza, impressive wine and for sure, a great time.

  Grimaldis Pizzeria on Urbanspoon

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Rare Find-Good Wine

I went to The Twisted Vine Bistro in downtown Fort Myers, FL, for a late lunch yesterday. And also to taste some new wine with owners Steve and Denise Hollister. Steve couldn't wait to share his latest acquisition, Allamand Cuvee Saint Jeannet. 

He explained that Saint Jeannet is a French grape that was thought to have been completely eradicated. That is until the owners of Allamand found it growing on a hillside of their property in Mendoza, Argentina. They had the strange grape with thick skin genetically tested to determine its origin.

There aren't many vines but vintners harvest what they can and in this case, blended it 50/50 with Chardonnay from 90 year-old vines. The result is a fresh and creamy blend, with some spice on the finish. I could pick out the rich Chardonnay immediately but it did not overpower the citrus and tropical fruits in the Saint Jeannet. OK for sipping in this hot weather but I liked it best with food.

After the wine rep told Steve there were only three cases in Florida, he said, "I'll take them all (waving his hands in the air)." The shipment should be in next week. As of yesterday he had planned to serve it by the glass and the bottle, $12/$48.

If you like to try different, unique and hard to get wines, you have to stop by and try this one a go, before I drink it all!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Wine Wednesday, New from New Zealand

I thought Wine Wednesday would never get here! Last week, I got a call from Heather, one of my favorite wine reps, who began the conversation like this, "I know it's not Wednesday, but  you HAVE to meet this guy I'm driving around today and you HAVE to taste his wine."

Me, "Twist my arm, OK."

Jason Yank, Managing Director of Astrolabe Wines, had just arrived from New Zealand. Because of a tight travel schedule, I could not get him into the studio but gladly connected at Cru in Fort Myers for a tasting and a quick interview.

This wine is not only new to the Southwest Florida Market, but new to the entire state. It was hard to pick which of three I tasted to feature for Wine Wednesday. But I finally decided on Astrolabe's flagship, Sauvignon Blanc. It smelled grassy and fresh. One of the first things I tasted was jalapenos! Then some peach and passion fruit, YUM! The fruit and acidity were nicely balanced. It's a great warm weather wine that I envision drinking with a fish dish, containing some combination of cilantro and onions.

Yank also brought along a phenomenal Pinot Gris and a Pinot Noir; both now available in Florida. Some of the places they are being poured include Sweet Melissa's, Sunshine Cafe, Cibo, Twisted Vine Bistro, Bistro 41, Decanted and the Island Store. Yank talks about all three here:

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Wine Wednesday, Achaval Ferrer

Malbec World Day is FINALLY here! A celebration of Argentina's most famous grape and one that has been taking the world by storm. I have been featuring Malbec's all month for Wine Wednesday and I can tell you it hasn't sucked one bit!

I was in Mendoza in December, drinking Malbec until my teeth and tongue were permanently stained. I was looking forward to visiting every winery on my itinerary, especially Achaval Ferrer. Wine Spectator Magazine had just named the 2010 Finca Bella Vista, one of the Top Ten Wines of the World! We drank it from the bottle, from the barrel and it was fantastic. However, for Wine Wednesday I've chosen their signature Malbec Mendoza. It's easier to get your hands on and more affordable; in the $20 range.

This is a big wine for the price tag with layers of spice, raspberry and dark fruit; a little earthy with a perfume finish. Here's a little more from the studio with the crappy lighting! Happy Wine Wednesday and Happy Malbec World Day! Whats in YOUR glass??? CHEERS!!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Southwestern Sizzle

Agave Southwestern Grill in Naples, FL has done a little Spring Cleaning....both with the inside decor and the menu. I recently stopped in to sample some of the new fare and was so disappointed, disappointed that I didn't have room to eat more!!! We started with the table-side guacamole service, giving our input as to how much of each ingredient we wanted; so of course, it was made just right.

Agave not only serves the traditional corn tortilla chips with the guac but new flour tortilla crisps that not only hold up nicely to the thick dip, but also taste good on their own.

The ostrich appetizers is now served with a crispy yucca chicharron cake and guava-lime butter ($15); scrumptious. However, our favorite new appetizer has to be the ancho seared tuna in a chili lime vinaigrette, served with a jicama mango slaw ($14). It was light and fresh, with a bit of sweet and hint of heat; a nice balance. This can also be ordered as a main course.

The new crispy braised pork belly was one of our picks for a main course ($28). It was served with a yucca bacon hash that I could eat all day, every day. The Carolina slaw was a nice acidic accompaniment for that fatty meat that was perfectly crisp on the outside; just a tiny bit dry inside, but overall a great dish.

For sides, we tried the new sauteed spinach and roasted mushrooms, and southwestern fries, dusted with the chimmichurri rub. Neither was over-sized, both were deemed to be keepers.

Speaking of chimmichurri, I think my favorite entree of the night was the new chicken chimmichurri ($23). The grilled breast was served with a red chimmichurri rice and mushrooms in an adobo cream sauce. The chicken was juicy and the sauce was addicting. I was so glad there was some rice and mushrooms left over. It was fabulous with eggs for breakfast the next morning.

Of course one of the coolest things about Agave is the tequila selection, more than 200 choices. They offer flights of their specialty margaritas and flights of tequila; both vertical and horizontal. I picked the vertical flight of Don Julio; starting from the lower end blanco and graduating to the more complex extra anejo. If you are a tequila novice, the flights are a great way to get a better understanding and appreciation of this lively spirit.

Agave Southwestern Grill on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Wine Wednesday, Trivento

It's Wine Wednesday and I'm continuing the Malbec Madness theme. April 17th has been declared Malbec World Day. However, since I don't like to wait for things like this, I started celebrating LAST Wednesday.

Today's selection is the 2011 Trivento, Amado Sur Malbec. I smelled the fruit as soon as I poured this one. It's got a little Bonarda and Syrah to make this a nice full glass of goodness. I think I'll call my friends at Ford's Garage and see if they can deliver my namesake burger to have with this one! I can taste it now. I was in Mendoza in December but did not visit this property. Here's a little more on this food friendly bottle, from the studio with crappy lighting...haha:

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

The Firestone Is On Fire

Talk about town in Southwest Florida this season, has surrounded the reopening of "the old sky bar" in downtown Fort Myers. The Firestone  is a four story restaurant and entertainment complex known for great, roof-top views of the sunset and the river basin and live music in the infamous, brick martini bar on the third floor. The first two floors are home to the restaurant and loft where Firestone tires rotate along a conveyor belt in a nostalgic setting. When the location reopened, there was no doubt among locals that it would be a good place to party, but what about dine?

Executive Chef Marbin Alvalez is the kind of guy you want to hug. He's got a great smile and he loves to make others smile with his culinary creations. Chef has given me a new love of broccoli by grilling it with Rogue Smokey blue cheese as an appetizer ($6.95). The grilled Caesar salad with roasted tomatoes is equally delightful ($7.95).

But the Butterfish (above) is spectacular ($26.95). The melt in your mouth, fish dish is served with honey wasabi mashed potatoes and vegetables, stir-fried in a sweet, savory chili glaze. I also tried the grilled lamb tenderloin and it was definitely tender ($25.75). Chef let us sample a grouper in a  pistachio sauce and some diver scallops as well. All were cooked perfectly and had a nice balance of flavors. Sadly, I did not save room for dessert.

The wine list at The Firestone started out a little bit on the thin side for my taste and for the cuisine, but on this latest visit I was pleasantly surprised with the new additions and increased variety.

Firestone owners and operators are also behind the nearby Fords Garage, where there is a burger on the menu with my name on it, literally. .

Firestone - Grille, Martini Bar & Sky Lounge on Urbanspoon

Monday, April 8, 2013

Two Hands, Two Days

I'm running out of storage space in my house for many things; shoes, kitchen gadgets and WINE. While it's hard to part with any of the three, if I don't start drinking, I'm afraid I'm going to have to start dumping.

Saturday I sat in front of my "cellar" (sounds more sophisticated than wine frig) and caressed bottles for about 20 minutes before deciding on the Two Hands, Max's Garden Heathcote Shiraz, 2005. I have never held on to Australian wine for any length of time so I was curious to see how this was.

According to Two Hands, the grapes grown in Heathcote this particular year were "rich and dense". When I first opened the bottle, I wondered if this was perhaps on it's way out. I got a nose full of acetone. I let it sit for about an hour and started to taste some raspberry and cherry, not as much pepper as I was expecting.

Day two, I took what was left to a party and sampled it again. I enjoyed it more the second day. It had smoothed out and opened up more instead of going south; even tasted some blueberry this time. What has your experience been with aging Aussie wines and Shiraz in particular? I have more.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Wine Wednesday, Concha y Toro

It's Wine Wednesday! April 17th is Malbec World Day. Why wait? I decided to make the entire month of April a celebration of Malbec.

Instead of starting out with an obvious selection from Argentina, the Malbec making capital of the world, I'm going to neighboring Chile. Check out the 2011 Reserva Casillero del Diablo from Concha y Toro. I love the story behind the name of this wine, which translates to the Cellar of the Devil. Back in the day, the owner sent word that there was a Devil in his cellar, to keep people from stealing the wine that was stored there. It's a well made and affordable collection, under $15 for this bottle. It tasted great with the fajitas I had for lunch! Here's a short video with more info (better quality next week...promise!)