Summer’s Greatest Hits

Highlights from this season include:

  • Victory Golden Monkey
  • Chono Rosé
  • New Holland Brewing Full Circle
  • Fieldstone Rosé of Sangiovese
  • Kunin Pape Star
  • Kilo Kai Spiced Rum (with ginger ale)
  • Allagash Grand Cru
  • Nicolas Fuillatte Brut Rosé
  • La Quercia Montepulciano d’Abruzzo
  • Hogwash Rosé
  • DeGlazen Toren Saison D’erpe Mere
  • Anderson Valley Brewing Summer Solstice
  • Sobieski
  • Brewer Clifton SRH Chardonnay
  • Lorentz Rosé
  • Lucarelli Primitvo



My husband and I bought a house this month.  It’s a beautiful four bedroom colonial about forty miles northwest of the city.   We’re living in a quiet neighborhood in a fairly small town, with not much around but trees and wildlife.  And bugs.  Lots of bugs.  Gross.  But it has a nice sized backyard with a large stone patio on which I anticipate spending countless evenings relaxing with wine.  It’s quite a change from the three room condo we’ve been crammed in for the last eight years.

Gloria Ferrer Va de Vi

I’ve spent hours contemplating the first bottle of wine in our new house.  Due to excessive chaos over the first two days, as well as a very tight budget, our celebratory bottle came in the form of a California sparkler I’d bought a couple months back at a deep discount.

Gloria Ferrer was the sparkler we poured on our wedding day, and their Va di Vi was the bottle we opened to celebrate our new home.  It was quite tasty– very fresh, a little fruity, not too dry, and just right for our small but memorable celebration.

I’m looking forward to many more fantastic bottles at our new address.

More Deliciousness from Belgium

Here’s a couple more winners from what has become my favorite brewery in the world: DeGlazen Toren.

The first one is their Saison D’erpe Mere.  It’s a Belgian farmhouse ale that I thoroughly enjoyed with friends and some German potato pancakes at The Bavarian Lodge.  The ale was a vibrant golden with a nice foamy white head.  It was complex and creamy, but not rich.  I found it slightly floral, with spicy, lemony hops and a delightful, dry and zesty finish. Some reviewers of this Saison complain about the over-abundance of carbonation, but that’s what I expect in this style of beer.  I thought it was simply outstanding.

I also sampled their dubbel, Cuvée Angelique.  I don’t always love this style– I usually find them a touch too dark– but Angelique won me over in one sniff.  It smelled of caramel, molasses, figs and sweet malt.  It was a sort of burnt caramel color with a brownish, reddish head.  In an instant the first sweet sip coated my whole mouth and lasted for what felt like ages.  It was medium bodied, with flavors of baking spice, dark fruits and something almost indescribably Christmassy.  I look forward to enjoying this beer following a holiday dinner or by the fire on a cool autumn evening.

All in all, two more absolute stunners from DeGlazen Toren.  Cheers!

Dear Customer Part 4

Dear Customer,

I like kids.  I really do.  I have four nieces and nephews that I dote on and adore.  I hope to have my own children sometime in the near future.  But in my store, your rugrats are not cute.  They are disruptive and dangerous.  They are a nuisance to me and to the other shoppers.  Please stop letting the little brats run about, and by all means DO NOT let them push your shopping cart.  You will have to restrain me if they’re wearing those hateful wheelie shoes.  This is millions of dollars worth of irreplaceable merchandise.  If your kids are well-behaved and unobtrusive, terrific.  But if you want to inject your kids with sugar and take them out to play, please take them to a park or to the Funland at McDonald’s.  I’m sorry.  But your obnoxious brats are not welcome here.

Cucina Paradiso

Cucina Paradiso

An old friend and colleague of mine mentioned this Italian restaurant in Oak Park.  I’m in the neighborhood once a week, so last week I thought I’d check it out.

Here are my general impressions:

  • Food: 7/10
  • Wine: 5/10
  • Service: 4/10
  • Ambience: 4/10
  • Value: 8/10
  • Overall: 6/10

Food: Apparently I lucked out and stopped in on $3 appetizer night.  Sweet.  So I ordered the baked goat cheese and the crabcake.  Perhaps not the best choices for an Italian joint, but both sounded good at the time.  The crabcake was average.  Both the flavor and consistency were good, and the dijon sauce that accompanied was quite tasty; but there was nothing spectacular.  The baked goat cheese, on the other hand, was fabulous.  It was served in a spicy tomato sauce with basil coated crostini.  Really delicious, and the serving was large and filling.  There were several more things on the menu that sounded delicious, but I was on a budget and a bit of a time constraint.  If I revisit this café in the future I will update accordingly.

Wine: I was confounded that there was no Prosecco on the menu.  This is a regrettable oversight and brings my rating down considerably.  Prosecco is the aperitif throughout Italy and certainly should be in an Italian café.  Instead I started with the only sparkling wine the bar offered: Veuve de Vernay.  I thought it fitting that it’s supplied by the friend that had referred me.  (You’re welcome.) Unfortunately I could tell the bottle had been open for a day or two and was a little disappointed.  However, it was a decent price and a good pairing with the crabcake.  To accompany the goat cheese with tomato, I ordered the lone Southern Italy representative: Luccarelli primitivo.  It was really tasty, and an exceptional pairing.  Later, disovering Paradiso offered no dessert wine options, I went for the traditional limoncello.  Yum.  Overall I thought their wine program, while sufficient, was predictable and unimpressive.

Service: Having been a server and bartender for years, I tend to cut restaurant professionals an awful lot of slack.  I know how hard it is.  I know how dull the job can be on a Tuesday.  And I know it’s easy to misjudge a patron.  However.  I still don’t like being on the receiving end of it.  As soon as I sat down I felt I was merely an annoyance for this guy.  It took him five minutes to even acknowledge me, then another five to get me a glass of wine.  He didn’t explain the special bar prices that evening nor took any initiative to help me navigate the wine list.  Instead he chatted it up with the two broads next to me who probably would leave him a shitty tip, and doted on some other chick I discovered later was an off-duty employee.  Huge mistake.  He spent far too much time and energy fraternizing with servers (see below.)  My champagne glass was empty for several minutes before he asked nonchalantly “Did you want something else?” Later, when I asked him who supplied the primitivo I enjoyed, he responded “I don’t know, we have a lot of different distributors.”  Gee, thanks buddy.  I also discovered throughout my stay he was a Sox fan.  Yuck.  But generally he was sufficient and accurate, and I can only fault him so much for not being wonderfully attentive to a weird single diner at the bar on a Tuesday.

Ambience: I will not sit in the bar at this place again.  It was horrible.  I sat near enough the service well that I was in firing range of every single conversation between the bartender and other employees, professional and otherwise.  One server actually mocked another customer right in front of me.  I can’t stress how much this kind of thing bothers me.  So freaking unprofessional.  I found the wastebasket in the ladies’ room overflowing and water all over the sink and on the floor.  Not dirty, but not exactly tidy.  The other bothersome detail in this building was there was absolutely no cell signal.  geeky I know, but it’s 2010 and that’s annoying.

Value: I happened to stop in and sit in the bar when appetizers were cheap, so my view may be distorted.  But prices for regular menu items looked fair, and the portions I received and saw at tables were substantial.  The volume of carry-out orders I saw come and go says a lot considering the fairly affluent neighborhood.

Overall: I will give Cucina Paradiso another chance but, as I stated, would not dine at the bar.  If given the opportunity I would like to see what the dining room experience is like.  Or, I may order and take home some pasta or perhaps a Margherita pizza for Jeff.

I’m Not a Doctor

One night not long ago, a customer came into the store and said “I need a wine that won’t upset my stomach.”  I looked at him, then looked around for the crew from “Candid Camera.”  When I realized he was making a serious inquiry, I took a deep breath and stood up from my desk.

“Well,” I said quizzically, “are you looking for a red or white wine?”

“I don’t know,” he said.  “I used to drink whiskey and rum but I’ve found that those upset my stomach too much.  So I thought I’d try wine.”

“I see.  So,” I repeated, “would you like red or white?”

“You tell me.  Which one has less acid?”

“Hmmmm.  Well, acidity in wine is different than the way we think of it with most foods.  What wine people call acidic has more to do with the way it feels in your mouth than what it does to your stomach.”  I said all of this with trepidation, knowing he could become annoyed at my lack of “expertise” on the matter.  “So, thinking of it that way, most white wines are more acidic, so I guess you should look at something red.  Have you tried red wine before?”

He scoffed at me and said “Of course.”

“So what have you liked?”

“What does it matter what I like?! I’m asking you to recommend something that won’t make me sick.”

“Oh.  Well. There was a study recently on red wines and antioxidants.  Would something like that help?”

“NO.  That’s not what I’m talking about.”

“Ok….” I was growing impatient. “Well… I guess..  I’m sorry sir, I’m just not sure I understand entirely what you’re looking for.”

At this point he stared at me, blankly at first, then with growing resentment.  “I just want a wine that won’t give me heartburn.”

So take some fucking tums.

“Right.  OK.  Let me show you this,” I said, walking him toward a cheap sweet red wine that was certain to please him at the time.  I didn’t care anymore about his stomach problems, I just wanted to get rid of him.  He stopped in his tracks, looked at the boxed wines, pointed to the Franzia and said “What about this stuff?”

Honestly, that was it for me.  “These will last in your fridge for a long time.  But, I really can’t say how you they will make you feel. You might want to ask your doctor about it?”


“Is there someone else here that knows more about this?”

“Well, sir, I am the senior wine consultant on duty.  No one here tonight knows more about wine than I do.  I know about where the wines come from, what they taste like, and what foods they pair with,” I said.  “But I’m afraid I don’t know what effect they will have on your digestive system.  I’m not a doctor.”

I DON’T EXPECT A YOU TO BE A DOCTOR!” He was enraged.  And frankly, the madder he got the more entertained I was.

This was probably to date, the most ridiculous situation I’d found myself in while in retail.  Can you imagine? What if he went into the butcher with the same request? “I used to eat pork chops but they gave me heartburn, so which cut of steak should I buy?” Or the ice cream shop? “Will a hot fudge sundae give me gas?” Or McDonald’s? “I want a burger that won’t upset my stomach.”

WTF dude. Still, ever the corporate slave, I smiled and assured him I’d ask around if any store associates had experience with this sort of medical situation.  I went to the customer service desk, certain my head was going to explode, and asked the mom on duty what she thought.  Thankfully, she was extraordinarily patient and gracious, the way she would have handled it if one of her kids came to her with a belly ache.  Together she and Upset Stomach Guy settled on sulfite-free wines.  She showed him where those were, calmly explained he should consult his medical professional about it, and sent him on his way.

I learned a valuable lesson from my patient colleague that evening.  But I still think, and hope, that jerk got the extreme diarrhea he deserved.

Les Fiefs de Lagrange 2005

Les Fiefs de Lagrange

It’s a well-known fact that 2005 was an extremely good vintage in Bordeaux. Many have been calling it the best vintage in a generation. That is, until reports came in about 2009. But that’s another story. The truth is, in classic vintages like this one, even wines with the most humble beginnings are terrific buys. So I figured the second label of the great Chateau Lagrange from St Julien would be a great wine.

I first tasted the 2005 Fiefs de LaGrange a little over three years ago. It was big, tannic, and impressive, especially for thirty bucks.  It was full of potential.  I thought for sure it would evolve nicely over the next few years, and most reviewers  agreed. So I bought a few bottles last year and stashed them downstairs for a bit to let them soften up.

Unfortunately it seems they softened up too much. The bottle I opened recently was mature and even fading. Most of the structured complexity had dissipated and what was left was a dull, flat and boring wine.  There was very little fruit, hardly any layers, and almost no personality.

Another disappointment from France.  What a shame.


There were forty-six at bats between Alex Rodriguez’ 599th and 600th homeruns.  Forty six! With all of ESPN and baseball nation just watching and waiting.  As a long time hater of everything Yankee, I thoroughly enjoyed this time.  “This is what happens,” I would say with disdain, “when a guy stops taking steroids.” I hope his souvenir ball has a giant asterisk on it.  Or, more appropriately, injected into it.

But enough of my hatred for cheaters.  My point is– everyone has slumps now and then.  And A-Rod’s was really only a blip on the radar.  A baseball player named Bill Bergen went that long without a single hit.  In 1909 he went 0-46.  That’s about twelve games.  Ouch.  Worse yet, think about my beloved Chicago Cubs, who haven’t won a championship in over one hundred years– the longest drought in professional sports.  Think about Dan Marino and his long, illustrious career without the coveted ring.  Think about fans of pro sports in Cleveland who’ve been waiting for a championship since 1964 (and since The Decision 2010, we all know what direction that’s going.)  Or, think about Vinny Testaverde, who in 1988 threw thirty-five interceptions.  Thirty-five.  But every time he threw a pick that season, he got up, dusted himself off and tried again.  And then, threw another interception.

I guess everyone goes through a period of doubt and failure, and I am certainly no exception.  I’ve been in a slump myself lately.  My mind is focused on many other things; and nothing I’ve drank has impressed or inspired me.  So today, on the day A-Rod blasted his history-making homerun into center field, I’m dusting myself off and breaking out of my wine slump.  Enough is enough.

Vintage Barb is back.