Some Dude Named Stanley

Let's go Hawks!

For me, wine and professional sports just don’t mix.  When I hang out at Wrigley, it’s all Old Style all day.  During football season I’m a total beer fanatic, though sometimes an occasional glass of sparkler carries over from brunch.  And this month? I’ve had to find something awesome to drink while cheering on our Chicago Blackhawks as they play for their first Stanley Cup since 1961.

Last night for Game 1, while the main attraction was chilling down, I enjoyed a bottle of Unibroue’s Blanche de Chambly.  This is my favorite style of beer and this one is still one of the best I’ve had.  Fresh, citrusy, spicy and delish.  Unibroue is just a damn good brewery. Perhaps its only flaw is its Canadian origins.  With that in mind, I triumphantly devoured it as I reminisced about our victory over Vancouver.

Then I popped open a treat from Brouwerij De Glazen Toren, a newish but fantastic Belgian brewery.  Their Jan de Lichte is made in the same style as the former, but is much thicker and… I don’t know… European flavored.  I think it’s the hops they use.  To be perfectly honest, I really don’t know much about crafting beer, and I don’t really care.  I just know I like it.  The only negative about this brew is I can only buy it in a 750ml bottle.  It’s only the equivalent of only a few beers, but it creates a couple disadvantages.  First, by the bottom I feel it loses some of the freshness.  Also, since this beer is also extremely frothy, and since I don’t have the proper tulip glass, I end up with two inches of foam every time.  Boo! In short, it’s still tasty, but I’d rather have it from the tap as I first discovered it at the nearby Bavarian Lodge.

Things are crazy here in Chi-town.  The last time this city was united like this was when the Bears won in 1985.  Everywhere you look folks are wearing red and black.  Every Target, Walgreens, Sports Authority, grocery store, and gas station is peddling Blackhawk’s gear.  The statue of  MJ is decorated in a Hawks sweater and helmet.  Strangers are actually smiling at each other.  Even the Sports Guy gave us his blessing. It’s all pretty f’ing exciting.  So I guess I should be raising a glass of some great local brew, from which there are plenty to choose.  Maybe for tomorrow’s game I’ll pick up a six pack of Goose Island or Two Brothers or the newer Metropolitan Brewing.

And next week, when the Hawks win it all, I will find and eagerly demolish a great beer from Philly to celebrate.

Making Memories

Sleet Storm

Three winters ago, we had the worst winter storm I can remember in recent history. Now, I’m not talking about the typical Chicago several feet of snow kind of storm.  We get used to that.  I’m talking the freezing cold, wear two pairs of socks, icicles coming out your nostrils, want to kill yourself for going outdoors kind of storm. That went on for about a week straight. Then, on Saturday evening, it started sleeting. For those of you that don’t live in this craptastic climate, sleet is like raining bullets. I’m pretty sure it’s described in one of Dante’s levels of hell. Literally fearing for my life, I begged my Jaba the Hut monster of a boss to let me leave early, to no avail. The store was a freaking ghost town for hours but it was, as usual, more important to her that I was miserable. Gosh I miss her. Anyway, when I finally left work at 7 that evening, there was an inch thick sheet of ice covering everything, including my car. Running it for twenty minutes with the defrost at full blast did nothing. I scraped and scraped and scraped. Finally after a good fifteen minutes of muscling free several layers of ice, I got behind the wheel. It was at this point I remembered I was responsible for bringing home dinner. Jeff and my visiting stepmom demanded ribs. So I stopped off at our normal take-out spot, traversed the precarious parking lot, and picked up a few slabs and some fries. My drive home from there should have taken six minutes; instead at about 10 mph I think I made the four ice encrusted miles in just under half an hour.

I walked in the front door, greeted my spouse and my evil stepmother and collapsed. They laughed at me and said whimsically, “Yeah it looks really shitty outside.” Assholes. It was then Jeff asked “What do you want to drink?” All my options scrolled through my brain like a rolodex. What I decided on was the new Spanish garnacha I had bought earlier in the week. I was looking forward to trying it, and I thought it be a fine companion for the barbeque.

As it turned out, Atteca was the perfect bottle of wine for that evening. It was a beautiful accompaniment for the dinner; it was warm and comforting, and even Jeff drank a little bit.  It was like a Snuggie in a bottle.  And every time I drink it even now I think of bitter cold, sleet, barbeque ribs, and a nice evening with great company.  Bodegas Ateca makes awesome wines, without question.  In the near future in fact, I will post about their latest releases.  But the truth is, sometimes the memories you make with wines are even more notable than the wine themselves.

Although next time, I think I’d prefer discovering a wine that’s perfect for a Caribbean vacation.

Four Vines 2008 “Biker” Zinfandel

Four Vines Biker

My husband loves the Matrix trilogy.  Me, not so much.   Partly because I just don’t care all that much for sci-fi.  (Don’t quote me on that later when I will inevitably reference Star Wars.) But mostly I dislike The Matrix because every time Keanu Reeves comes on the screen I want to punch something.   And every time I cringe , Jeff says “You only hate him for that one line.”

“Whoa.”

And honestly, he’s right.  I hate that line.  I hate that moment.  And I positively hate Keanu Reeves for it.  Heck, I hate Carrie Ann Moss just by association.  But the delivery of that line is the only thing I can think of when I taste this powerhouse zinfandel.

Four Vines makes some killer wines.  I’ve tasted lots of their stuff in the past, including some of their smaller production wines.  They make some cool Rhône style blends, great syrah and petite, and do funky things with tempranillo.  They make an unoaked chard that is quite nice for only about $12.  But I love Four Vines, as do most people, for their dynamic, full throttle zinfandels.  The 2008 Biker from Paso Robles is certainly no exception.  At about $22 it’s a tad more than I spend on the average bottle, but I splurged a little on this one.  (It’s worth it; but if you don’t want to spend as much but want to check out Four Vines pick up their Old Vine Cuvée for about $14.)  Anyway, the Biker is intense, flashy, spicy and just plain sexy.  My first reaction (after the “whoa”) was “Holy shit, it’s pure clove juice.”  As usual, this zin is definitely spice driven, but I assure you, after a little coaxing, the fruit comes out to play.  Loads of blackberry and brambly raspberry with just a hint of thick and luxurious cassis.  Then the spices come back into the picture, thanks to a splash of mouvedre in the mix.  The clove is still dominant but there’s bursts of cinnamon and allspice, with a little vanilla and cedar on the long, long, sinful finish.

I had this with take-out barbecue ribs and french fries after an excruciatingly long work week.  And though I’m fairly sure extreme fatigue gives any wine or beer an advantage, in this case, it’s all thanks to another solid offering from Four Vines.  It’s never around for long, so grab some before it’s gone.

Spring’s Greatest Hits

Here’s some highlights from this season:

  • Leitz Dragonstone Riesling 2007
  • Goose Island Summertime
  • Cazadores Reposado (Mmmmmargarita)
  • Crios Torrontes 2009
  • Heyman’s Delicious Porter
  • Beckmen Sauvignon Blanc 2009
  • Patz & Hall Pinot Noir 2007
  • Brooklyn Summer Ale
  • Dashe Zinfandel 2007
  • Saintsbury Rosé 2009
  • Paso a Paso Verdejo 2009
  • Bacardi Dragonfruit (with club soda)
  • Atteca Garnacha 2008
  • Qupe Bien Nacido Cuvée 2008
  • Rock Bottom Seasonal Wheat
  • Argiano Rosso Toscano 2007
  • Bells Oberon
  • Indaba Chenin Blanc

Cheers!

Grape of the Month: Viognier

May is one of my favorite months!  Here in Chicago the weather is usually perfect– the skies are blue, there’s a delicate breeze, and the sun is warm but soothing overhead.  The ivy is growing at Wrigley, and my Cubbies still have a shot at the title.   Hey, there aren’t too many months I can say that.  Let me enjoy it while I can.

But I think my favorite part of May is watching and smelling the flowers blooming all over the landscape.  While I’m not lucky enough to have my own flower garden just yet, my dreams often include planting one someday.   And though most greenthumbs might choose the glamorous rosebush, my garden will be full of daisies, orchids and gardenias, with a few lilac bushes on the outskirts.  In my dreams I sit in my colorful garden, relax and take in the beautiful day, watch butterflies flitting about, listen to the Cubs on WGN (shameless endorsement) and sip a wonderful, elegant, sumptuous glass of viognier.

Viognier

First of all, it’s pronounced vee-ohn-yay.  Don’t say it wrong or your local wine pro will scowl at you and give you Fetzer or worse.  And it’s home is the Rhône Valley, one of my very favorite wine areas in the world.  Viognier is the main white varietal there and is known especially in the region Condrieu, and as the aromatic zing in Côte Rôtie.  It hasn’t really taken off in the States probably because it’s difficult to say, but mainly because the good ones aren’t cheap.  This is due to small production, mostly because of the grape’s finicky nature.  But it finally seems to be increasing in popularity, thanks to many solid offerings from California and Australia, as well as reasonably priced whites called Vin de Pays which often use mostly viognier.  But do yourself a favor: Spend a little more on this grape.  You can scrimp on something else.

Sight: In the glass it’s a bright yellowish-golden.  It’s a pretty viscous (alcohol-y) wine so you will see more “legs” than many other, lighter whites.  It also appears much more vibrant and shiny than most others.  Oh who am I kidding, by now you’re not even looking at it anymore because…

Smell: Viognier it’s what heaven smells like.  Imagine: The Pearly Gates, Saint Peter, Jesus, harps, all your loved ones, a gigantic comfy couch…  Take a deep breath……  There.  Beautiful.

No? Ok, take one or two daisies from my garden and take off the petals.  Grab a handful of lilacs too.  Don’t worry, the dog is tied up.  (I don’t have a dog, but in my dream I have a gorgeous chocolate lab.  Just go with it.) Now find an empty box of fruit loops– the kind where all the cereal is gone but there’s still that fascinating sugary powder still sifting around at the bottom of the box.  Toss the flower petals in there and give it a good shake.  Head for the nearest orange grove.  Now open the box and smell.  That’s viognier.

Taste: Viognier is perfect for people that think they don’t like white wine.  It’s weighty on the palate, but not heavy or dense like most reds are and some chardonnays can be.  It is rich and complex but has a refreshing, cooling lift.  The flavor is dominated by apricot, tangerine, and orange peel, with flashes of of lilac and violet, and a very faint hint of honey.  Depending on fermentation technique and oak treatment, some have a very slightly creamy edge and subtle hints of vanilla and spice.  Some producers leave a touch of residual sugar to take the edge off the alcohol, so a teeny tiny hint of sweetness isn’t unheard of.  And the late harvested dessert wines I have encountered made from viognier are to die for.  But typically viognier is dry but intensely fruity, complex but subtle, refined, luxurious, and absolutely mesmerizing.

Paring: Grilled salmon or swordfish with a orange-mango salsa.  Spicy Thai dishes.  Any kind of stir fry.

Recommendations:

  • $10-15:  Chono, Yalumba, d’Arenberg “The Hermit Crab”
  • $15-30: Jaffurs, Qupe, Fieldstone; $30-50: Darioush, Georges Vernay, Guigal Condrieu
  • Before you die: Chateau Grillet