Category Archives: Italian

Roman Style Wining and Dining in Chicago

There is nothing more awesome than a true Italian style dinner….multiple courses, good wine, and eating that spans several hours. It is pretty rare to find a restaurant that feeds you continuously for that long without requiring you to nibble and look ackwardly at your impatient waitress/waiter. But at Enoteca Roma the owners have created the ultimate Roman feast with 6 courses, serving more food that you can handle and the grand experience of eating what I like to call a “sprawling” European style dinner. All of it is for a swoon worthy $25. Count ’em…
Courses
1. Antipasta and Bruscetta
2. Appetizers- usually steamed mussells and stewed sausage
3. Salad
4. Polenta served hot on a cool slab of marble
5. Pasta
6. Pizza
(7. Dessert)

Dessert is a little extra, and we actually refused the pizza and went for the dessert instead. The various cheesecakes and gelato were a perfect way to end the meal. I greedily finished off the rest of the pana cotta that was silk smooth and topped with berries. It was nothing short of glorious. All of us couldn’t help but comment how great the meal was along the way. Each course was well made and definitely drool worthy. I am already plotting my next visit.

Wines
Bisson Prosecco IGT Valdobbabiene, Italy 2006- $13- Not bad- Damn Good

We started out with this bottle. It had a nice acidity and a good deal of carbonation that made it a good way to clean our palates and start the evening out right. With hints of citrus and pear and a light nose, I thought this was a pretty good prosecco.

Corregio Roero Nebbiolo Piemonte, Italy 2003-$18- Not Bad

This was a very fruit forward light bodied red. It had a little bit of an acidic, tanniny, dry finish but maintained its body. With the bitter savoriness of our arugula parmesan salad, it paired wonderfully showing a great complexity than at first taste. It also left a clean palate.

J Hofstatter Pinot Nero Valle D’Aosta, Italy 2005-$20- Damn Good

To me the best wine of the night, this bottle had a great fruity jammy nose with hints of cherry and a great taste to match. What made it interesting was its complex spicy finish. It went beautifully with our heavier more substantial pasta dishes. Less tannin than the previous wine, it had a medium body and was very drinkable.

St. Patty’s Day, the Wine Way

In a very miscalculated move, we didn’t buy tickets to the Metropolitan Opera’s live streaming of Britten’s Peter Grimes, mistakenly betting that the seats wouldn’t sell out. Who knew. So, after a hurried cab ride downtown later, I found myself forlornly standing outside the theatre, clutching my brown paper bag of toasted sandwiches I’d picked up for the 4 hour marathon.

Since we were downtown already anyway, we decided to go wine tasting. Just Grapes, right by my workplace, has free wine tasting from 1-4pm every Saturday, so we headed on there. In between sampling the 5 different tastings offered, we enjoyed a good chat with the store manager and the wine distributor. Ah, for a different career change. Anyway, here are my reviews of the wines:

2006 Riff, Pinot Grigio, Trentino-Alto Adige, Italy $11
The store’s tasting notes: “The vineyard sources for most of this Pinot Grigio contain a substantial amount of dolomite limestone which has an obvious impact on the wine’s character and style. It is because of the contrinbution that these fossils (limestone) make to the wine’s character that they have been chosen to be incorporated into the label design as a reminder of its geological origin. Simple, with apple, lemon and light mineral character. Light body. Delicate finish. Drink now.” While I wasn’t too impressed with the body and finish (boring, with no obvious flavors or textures), I really liked its nose. I did get the scent of apple and some lemon, and could see it as a delightful cool drink on a sweltering summer day.

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2005 Franz Karl Schmitt, “Niersteiner Hipping,” Riesling Spatlesse, Rheinhessin, Germany $22
The store’s tasting notes: “The estate was founded by Jost-Schmitt in 1546, and has been in family possession since those days. Riesling is cultivated in some of the prime vineyards in Nierstein, including the classic Hipping. The grandfather of the present owner, also named Franz-Karl Schmitt, was renowned for his striving to produce great wines. He was the first to produce Trockenbeerenhauslesse in the Rheinhessen around 1900!” It’s difficult right off the first sip to pronounce that you don’t like sweet wines (which can be really tiring on the palate after a couple glasses), so it was with my experience with this. I prefered the bouquet proffered by the Pinot Grigio, but the gentle sweetness of this riesline was hard to dislike. It wasn’t cloyingly sweet, but the taste lingered on in my mouth long seconds after the liquid had been tipped down my throat.

2006 Rex Hill, Chardonnay, Oregon $22
The store’s tastings notes: “A crisp, yet complex wine, the 2006 Rex Hill Chardonnay represents the sixth vintage of Oregon’s original ultra-premium unoaked Chardonnay. To highlight the wonderful fruit and underlying minerality in some of the Wilamette Valley’s best vineyard sites, we ferment in small stainless steel to retain the fruit’s bright transparency and then age the wines on the lees to achieve a creamy mouthfeel. Aromas of candied citrus, plums, green apple. Good richness on the attack, with broad palate-coating flavors that echo the nose. The brisk acidity adds structure and freshness, focusing the mineral notes, and lengthening flavors.” It was quite exciting to identify the candid citrus (sort of like those sugar covered jelly beans one finds during the Chinese New Year festivities) and the green apple in the nose, but I couldn’t taste the same flavors in the body. I actually found the body and finish to be quite boring, but not achingly so – within seconds, no trace of its ever being there was left. I’m still not sure whether I prefer the oaked, buttery types of Chardonnay… should do a tasting sometime to tease out my taste.

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2006 Paraiso, Pinot Noir, Santa Lucia Highlands, Central Coast, California $24
The store’s tasting notes: “Paraiso’s flagship varietal. Wonderful Burgundian character: rich cherry and plum flavors with hints of spice, smoke, and toasty oak. All wrapped by structuring tannins and acidity. Amazingly food-versatile: salmon, roast chicken, beef tenderloin, you name it.” I profess to be quite partial to Pinot Noir, my interest in the grape stemming from a road trip Peirui and I made, oh, two years ago now (!!!). The nose exhibited the characteristics of the grape, but I was quite disappointed by the finish, which I found weak, almost watery. Chatting later with Janel from WineStyles, she confirmed my tasting notes, saying that the area saw too much rain in 2006. Ah.

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2005 Chateau Saint Andrew Corbin, Merlot blend, St. Emilion, Bordeaux, $23
The store’s tasting notes: “Garnet with a violet rim, spicy cedar, blueberries and tobacco on the nose. Medium weight with spicy cedar, blueberries and tobacco, great structure.” If I closed my eyes and sniffed really hard, I could just pick out the scent of tobacco and cedar, but my god, the blueberries! It just jumped right out at you, unmistakeable and completely in your face. I loved the nose. But alas, the body was almost unbearably tight, the tannins completely sucking out the moisture from my lips. I suspect though, that a few years in the cellar might do wonders for this wine.

It was still early when we were done, and the revellers were still crowding the hundreds of Irish bars in the city. So we made our way over to Randolph Wine Cellars right down the street, and engaged in an entertaining tasting with another distributor.

My notes:

2006 Licia Albarino, Rias Baixas, Spain $14
Heh, this tasting was right down my alley, since we tasted both the Albarinos and plenty of Grenaches, both grapes of choice right now. I thoguht the Rias had a very light nose, such that I couldn’t quite place the smell. Or maybe sensory fatigue was setting in already. But even so, I could definitely place the lemony structure in the body and finish, almost akin to lemon juice with a kick. Would be a delicious combination with a lightly sauteed fish – mmm, need to do another canoeing trip down the Wisconsin River this spring…

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2004 Atrea “The Choir,” Mendocino County $20
It’s a rhone varietal blend, with parts of viognier and roussanne. This one had quite a pungent nose of wood and earth. The heavier body would make it an unsuitable pairing with fish, but the distributor suggested heavy aged cheeses.

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2005 Moulin D’Issan, Bordeaux $16
A Bordeaux Superior wine, which doesn’t fall under the 5 growth system, this wine can be found in the Margaux region. Blend of 70% cabernet sauvignon and 30% merlot. Lots of bright fruit in the nose, with a little bit of oak. I thought it tasted a little green.

2005 Domaine du Grand Tinel Chateauneuf-du-pape $30
My favorite tasting of the day, very smooth and balanced, with a hint of orange peel and black plum in the nose and body. It’s a blend of grenache, syrah, and mourvédre.

2004 Domaine Raspail-ay Gigondas, Rhone $22
Eh, to be honest, I’ve forgotten the taste of this, and didn’t take down any notes since I was busy enjoying a long conversation with the distributor about how she fell into wines and the various wine trips she’s taken in France (damn the weak USD right now). I do vaguely remember thinking that it was quite delicious though…

My palate was a little tired by this point, but the green clad revelers were still out on the streets, so we decided to continue the celebrations in our own way by making our way over to WineStyles, where Denise and Janel gave us two tastings of “green wines,” wines made the organic and environmentally friendly way. Erm, I don’t have any notes of those tastings either… but I did leave WineStyles armed with a bottle of Australian Grenahce that Janel says would go great with lambshank or spicy fish. Mmm.

We made a pit stop at Binny’s next, but boo, they didn’t have any tastings available. Disappointed but not deterred, we pressed on next to Sam’s Wine. By that time, I think the tastings were already concluded, so instead I tasted some cheeses (and picked up a slab of pate), and a pizza beer (beer brewed with pizza ingredients such as tomato, mozarella etc. very authentic!). And I also got the bottle of El Tesoro (thank you Cristalle!). 🙂

And then, I was done. 🙂

Cheers: Wines of the (or my) holidays

Wines of choice this holiday season (so far):

1. Tamellini Soave 2004 ($12):Damn good
Over dinner with the girls Maggie, Kayla, and Peiyun. Our shared Italian meal was excellent – simple, yet flavorful and tasteful. Peiyun admired the Soave too, which incidentally, I have another bottle that’s sitting in my fridge. Made of 100% Garganega grapes, the wine is a light gold in color with a heady apple and apricot perfume. Strong, luscious mouthfeel and finish, an elagant wine.

Eat – seafood pasta

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2. Domaine Weinbach Gewurztraminer Clos des Capucins Reserve Personnelle 750ml 2005 ($33)Damn good
This was one of the dozen bottles I picked up at the beginning of December, and actually, the most expensive one. Which was a little odd, considering my preference for reds, but the wine experts at Sams helped me put together my case, and they couldn’t help going on and on about the Alace wine. I broke it out last Thursday night, after a heavy dinner at Broadway Cellar with my favorite peeps who were in town. Peiyun wasn’t a fan though; I guess she didn’t quite enjoy the more restrained body with the slightest peppery finish. I thought it quite austere, a little chewy, and on hindsight, perhaps a wine better served with food.

Eat – asparagus methinks

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3. Susan Balbo Malbec 2005 ($16)Damn good
We opened this last Friday, post-dinner at Barbareebas, when we were lounging on my landing, playing my various board games. Definitely an easy to drink wine; lots of fruit in the nose – blueberries, rasberries. Very lush, and complemented the sponge cake that the girls got for Peiyun’s belated birthday.

Eat – chocolate and rasberry cake

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4. Turnbull Cabernet Sauvignon 2005 ($47)Orgasmic
If the Malbec was a youthful, exuberant wine, then the Turnbull could be likened to as a more grown up version. The Cabernet wasn’t as packed heavy with fruit as the Malbec – it was a thinner, more svelte, and much sexier version. Think slinky silver dress with those long gloves. Alright, I know I’m over the top with my descriptions, but I stand by my point: the Turnbull was sultry. The first sip took me by surprise: it was smooth, silky, slid down my throat, and I was smitten. I brought it over to Sandy’s for Christmas eve, and yes, it went well with the smoked turkey.

Eat – turkey! Or even on its own

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5. Clautiere Estate Viognier 2004 ($23)Damn good
I picked this bottle up on a whim over the summer. I remember the wine shop well: it was a small, boutique shop near UIC. We had stopped in after dim sum on Saturday afternoon, looking for some tastings, and I fell into conversation with the people working in the store. We gushed over viogniers, and she let me taste this one bottle. Last night, I popped the cork, rationalizing that no matter that I was alone at home, it was Christmas. A deep, golden yellow in color, it has a heavy nose of honeydew and melon. Thick, creamy body that just sits so right in your tongue, and rounded off with an earthy finish.

Eat – erm, I had it with instant noodles the first night, and then kebab the second. Mmm.

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Two glasses: Montepulciano and Pinot Noir

Sorely tempted to whip up a dinner and open a bottle of wine to wash the food down with. But I made sort of an informal pact with myself, that I’ll only buy a new case of wine after December 1st. So, in the meantime, I have to make do with a just a couple glasses of wine to go with dinner.

I had two glasses this weekend (well, three, if you count the half glass of Prosecco I shared on impulse). On Friday, I had a glass of Umani Ronchi Montepulciano D’abruzzo, an Italian wine from the Abruzzo region. Having no prior expectations, I was very impressed with the wine. It was lush and very fruity, from the nose to the mouthfeel, of cherries and blackberries. A simple, but deliciously full and smooth wine; and I was almost sad when I drained my glass. But I was sad when I forgot my leftover rigatoni and sausages and left it at the restaurant. Boo.

On Saturday, I checked out La Madia, a new pizza and wine bar downtown (On a side note, I’ve not ventured to new restaurants in a while, and I fear I may have gotten too lazy and comfortable, and no longer adventurous, boo). It was hellish finding parking downtown on a weekend night; I had known that from the start but loathe to take the bus/train. Finally, after driving around in circles for 20 minutes, I found a parking garage that charged the cheap price of $10 for 2 hours; the restaurant charged $12 (not including tips) for valet. Anyway, the Neapolitan pizzas were amazing, and brought back the happy and heady memories of Rome and Italy so many years ago now. Of late dinners where we lingered for hours over jugs of house wine all the while breathing in smoke from all the other diners’ tables (sometimes even from our own); of standing on a dark street corner outside our favorite pizza joint that’s down the street from our hotel, hastily wolfing down the fresh, hot slices so we could go check out the bars in the piazza down the hill; of Naples – that humungous villa where we stayed, the foggy Mt. Vesuvius, the tragically beautiful and beautifully preserved Pompeii. Just what we needed, was what we kept gushing throughout the dinner. Forget the rich and heavy Chicago style pizza that ooze cheese, cheese, and more cheese. I loved biting into the crunchy thin crust of my La Madia pizza, loved savoring the nuttiness the pine nuts brought out in the cheese, and the bitterness of the arugula against the salty prosciutto (yay, leftovers to enjoy today; can’t believe I almost forgot to take it with me again).

I was still thinking about that Umani Ronchi from the night before. Alas, I’d decided to try a different wine this time, a Pinot Noir from Burgundy, from Mischief & Mayhem. With a memorable name like that, I was almost certain I’d had it before, but I can’t find any records of it. Shrug. That was an almost disappointing glass (7 oz to be exact): the wine was thin, and sharp, and the tannins made it seem a little too astringent. I’m not sure if age would have helped mellow the wine, because it seemed too thin already. Where was my earth, mushroom and meat?

Cheap Red Wine and Pasta

Ever since I bought a pasta maker as an impulse buy it has gathered its fair share of dust like most impulse buys do. But this summer, I dusted that puppy off and made, count ’em, not one but TWO batches of fresh pasta. To go with my lovely fresh strands, I make somewhat of a formulaic hodge podge sauce. I do more or less the same thing every time, but each time I make this dish it comes out different. This time I used a cheap Spanish red I bought from Trader Joe’s and the results were lip smacking. We even lamented not having any bread to sop up the residual sauce from the plate. Here’s the recipe. As you read it will become very obvious why it turns out different every time, but I’ve used this a lot and it never comes out bad. Ahhh the simplicity of Italian food. 🙂 Cheers!

Whatever You Got Pasta Sauce
Ground beef or pork or any old beef/pork based sausage cut up (half a pound, a pound, whatever you got, combine if you don’t have enough of one)
2 medium or 1 large onion chopped ( can be yellow, red, white, green…you get the idea)3 tomatoes chopped
1 jar of any pasta sauce (I go with what is on sale or just combine the opened jars I have in the fridge)
Sliced Mushrooms (optional- whatever floats your boat!)
Lots of minced garlic
Fresh chopped Basil or Pesto (I keep frozen pesto in the freezer. If you aren’t a food nerd like me, don’t sweat it if you don’t have it.)
1 cup of red wine
a dash of cumin (enhances the flavor of the meat)
a dash of cinnamon (Cinnamon adds a unique sweetness, if you find all the tomato and wine is making the sauce tart and acidic, this will mellow it out. So add more or less as you need)
salt to taste (Or if you have any on hand you can add salt by using beef bullion cubes or any salty clear soup..onion, beef, chicken, vegetable)

1. Over medium heat saute garlic in some olive oil or any fat (butter, oil, bacon grease, lard… I could go on, but I won’t because its getting old) until mildly translucent
2. Add onions and mushrooms. Add a generous pinch of salt to get the veggies to sweat and release their juices. Saute until mushrooms are floppy and onions are mildly translucent
3. Add meat. Cook till lightly brown.
4. Add tomatoes. Cook until a little squishy
5. Add jar of pasta sauce. Let everything simmer until it thickens a bit.
6. Add wine, a cup or more to taste
7. Add basil or pesto
8. add salt to taste
9. Add cinnamon and cumin to taste (lick the spoon, add some spice, lick the spoon, add some spice….I like the lick the spoon part of cooking)

Abrazo Del Toro Tempranillo (Spain, $5/bottle)- Not Bad 🙂

Hot Damn! Trader Joe’s has done it again and introduced me to another good cheapo wine. At $5 a bottle, Abrazo del Toro Tempranillo may be a damn good, but I refuse to be swayed by my thriftiness. It’s got a fruity, bold berry nose with a taste to match. There is a good amount of complexity, with a lingering subtle spiciness to it. There is a little bit of dryness as well. Like any easy comfort food, this bottle is good, cheap, and accessible. 😉
Sniff- fruit, berries, spice, mineral
Sip-fruit, cherries, spicy, mildly dry
Eat- red pasta dishes, anything with red meat, bbq, steak, roasts, dark chocolate