The Big Woods

Little House on the side of the road in the middle of nowhere....Where are the big woods? Well, they really aren’t there anymore. Heck, the Little House isn’t really there anymore. Just a wayside on a hill near where the house used to be. In all fairness? It hasn’t been there in over 100 years.

What happened to the woods?  I blame bears.So I went to look at the site. It took a bit longer to find than I anticipated. Sigh. Typical. The cabin was tiny. A loft, a big hearth, a table. But it reminded me of being a girl and imagining what it was like. And the it was the sounds. Wind through the trees and the grass. Birds and insects chirping away….The description of what sounds surrounded the Ingalls family was always pretty descriptive in the Little House books. So I listened. and recorded. I ate lunch at a table on the grounds and watched people come and go.. Mostly people my age or older. In Jazzy’s and wheel chairs, some wandering around the site, others just in and out of the cabin. We all acknowledged each other sheepishly, but didn’t speak to each other…

That's a lake? well, maybe if you are 6Then I went down and took a look at Lake Pepin. I remember reading about Laura taking a trip into the town of Pepin. In the book it is seven miles drive to town and the horses periodically get bogged down in the spring mud. The going is easier now. The roads are paved… It still is seven miles (or so). Laura experienced awe when she saw the lake and the town. For me, Pepin isn’t the biggest place I have seen. Even at age five. Lake Pepin is less a lake and more of wide spot in the Mississippi River. But the lake glistened in the sun and I tried to imagine what it must have been like for Laura and Mary to run along the beach. I imagined that the location of the local Laura Museum was the the store.

That is Holly Hobbie, amirite?By the way? Museum people? Your Laura looks like Holly Hobbie…. imma just saying…

Villa BellezzaNow the original plan was to stop at wineries along the way, This is part of the Upper Mississippi River Valley AVA after all, but… I killed too much time dealing with construction and getting lost and I still needed to make my way to Minnesota. So, I wandered along the town and noticed that there was a winery there. Villa Bellezza is a bit grand a space for Pepin, Wisconsin and very Italian looking but they were growing Foch, Frontenac, Frontenac Blanc, Frontenac Gris, LaCrescent, Marquette, Prairie Star and St. Pepin on twelve acres of vineyard located in and around the region. Interesting…. It was Saturday afternoon though and late at that. Ugh. Same deal with the Maiden Rock Cidery that I had looked up. So I resolved to avoid the tasting room crowds and stock at an area liquor store.

Wisconsin is the leading producer of cranberries in the United States!!!  You know what happened. Nothing from those places were being sold. But there was Wisconsin wine there. Cranberry wine from Spurgeon Vineyards which is in Western Wisconsin but more than 150 miles away. sigh again. Not about the wine being made from Wisconsin. That makes sense as Wisconsin produces more cranberries than any other state in the U.S. (The More You Know!!!). Still. I was expecting something a little more local. Perhaps tomorrow.

Lists for Locapours – Browntrout

Gretchen Neuman
VinoVerve Editor

Ever go into restaurant and look over the menu and see the Chef proudly proclaim that they are sourcing their proteins and veg from local farms? I see it alot here in Chicago.

Then I take a look at the winelist and there is nothing, I mean NOTHING local on it. When I have asked, I asked I get answers that relate to the economics of distribution (which is complex and a pain to figure out) or I get comments about the quality of the local wines as discussed in the comments of this Huffington Post piece.

So, when I see a wine list that has anything local on it, I want to cheer them on.

Kevin, I and the girls stopped for brunch recently at such a place. Browntrout.

The restaurant bills itself as serving sustainable, locally farmed, and organic products whenever possible. For most restaurants this has meant a trip to the Chicago Green Market. Browntrout grows its own herbs in their rooftop garden as well as establishing relationships with local farmers. Local and artisanal beers are also on the list as is locally roasted coffee and house made gingerale and Gale Gand’s Root Beer. But it is the wine list that interested me most.

Tasty!Most of the options were labels that I have previously seen and know to be sustainably produced. Ironically, many wine makers use sustainable practices but shy away from using in their advertising so that the focus is on the quality of their wine, not the method of production. I was pleased to see a couple of options on the list from local vineyards, specifically, the Pinot Grigio and Blaufrankisch from the Circa Vineyards in Leelanau Michigan. I was doubly delighted by the Blaufrankisch as it is a varietal that is largely only see in Germany and Austria. Unfortunately, I was eating brunch, so I skipped red wine and enjoyed the Pinot Grigio instead. It was a nice crisp wine with a lot of flavor. Kevin and I are certainly looking forward to trying the red at another point as the food at Browntrout was wonderful. Even the ever world-weary, Celia couldn’t find anything bad to say. That is high praise indeed.No mean featBrowntrout puts its "Loca" cred to the test and wins!

So get out there and support your Locapour restaurants. They aren’t just talking the local, green talk; they are walking the walk too!

4111 N. Lincoln Ave.
Chicago, IL 60618
(773) 472-4111
Good food+Happy Teens+Good Wine=Happy Parents!

Road Trip Planning 2010 – North Dakota

Gretchen Neuman
VinoVerve Editor

North Dakota! Where the winds go sweeping down the plains! Ooops, wrong song. But North Dakota is where I’ll wind up next and there are plains. So that much is accurate. To get there, all I have to do is cross the Red River from Minnesota. Easy-peasy. Now, I have seen the Red in action. it is no meek, mild river. I got to enjoy its delightful flooding during the summer of 1993 in the even more delightful city of Winnipeg. Do you know how big mosquitos get in Manitoba during a flood? I still have nightmares about them.

So what do I have to look forward to in North Dakota?

Well, there is Fargo. Still no Marge, but still. I also get to go through the capital, Bismarck, named for the German Chancellor, not the donut.

Other options for me:

The Roger Maris Museum
The National Buffalo Museum where there are albino bison.
A walking tour of Louis L’Amour’s hometown
I got excited about the Theodore Roosevelt Rough Rider Hall of Fame, but it turns out that it is a portrait gallery of famous North Dakotans Now it is interesting because I learned that Lawrence Welk, Peggy Lee and Angie Dickinson all came from North Dakota.
Fort Abraham Lincoln and Custer House might be more up my alley so long as I avoid the guided tour (I have been banned from the Freedom Trail, after all. Marguerite is similarly banned. We are not good on historical tours, in fact, we are downright snarky.)
Salem Sue! I love giant animals! I visit the Big Duck often, how could I skip the duck’s dairy equivalent?
Dakota Dinosaur Museum. Did you just hear my nerd alert go off? WHEE!
Did I mention that this will be my first time seeing the

Now I just have to figure out what the quintessential food of North Dakota is… Any ideas? You know how to reach me or comment below.

Things To Do This Weekend in Chicago

Gretchen Neuman
VinoVerve Editor

Looking for something to do this weekend? Something where you can have good food and drinks? Want to have the added bonus of doing some good?

Well, I have the event for you!

Via Facebook:

Please join us at the James Hotel, on 11/22/09 from 4-7:30 to help show our love and support for our good friend Jeffrey Hemmings. As our dear friend continues his healing battle with Germ Cell Cancer, we want Jeff to know how much we all love him and that he only needs to focus on getting better. To that end, we are getting together to raise money for Jeff to cover his expenses until he can get back to the normal business of life.

We’ll gather for a late afternoon of joy to celebrate and laugh in his honor. There will be a cash bar and appetizers, as well as a raffle. We’re asking for a $20 donation to attend the event, and ask that you bring your hearts and your checkbooks! Our friend needs our help.

The specifics:
When: Sunday, November 22nd 4:30 – 7:00pm
Where: The James Hotel (Great Room) 55 E. Ontario, Chicago, IL 60611
Cost: Door Donation $20 includes buffet.

Purchase tickets and/or donate here:

You have the option of donating and/or buying tickets at the EventBrite page. If you would like to donate, you decide the amount you would like to contribute. The system will then tack on an EventBrite service fee to cover the cost of credit card processing.

If you’re buying tickets, you need to simply choose how many you want.

You do not need a paypal account to buy tickets or to donate. Please let us know if you have questions.

We’re also offering raffle tickets for purchase at the event as well as a cash bar. All proceeds will go directly to Jeff.

Please RSVP so that we know how many to expect!

Mark, Rachael, and Jeff

If you have dined with Kevin and I at David Burke’s Primehouse, chances are you have met Jeff.  He is a great guy and deserves our support.  Kevin, Rory and I will be there… Hope to see you too!

I was In-N-Out

Gretchen Neuman
VinoVerve Editor

For the last week and a half I have been posting about the events of one day, July 25th, 2009. It was a long, fun and exhausting day where I drank a lot of wine, learned a lot of interesting facts and met a lot of interesting people. But the day, like every day must eventually end.

The Order BoyIn the morning I got up and went down for the break out sessions of the conference. Apparently these were strategically arranged for Sunday to keep people from sneaking out of the conference early. And as they were sessions about how to figure out ways to monetize or improve your blog, I was there. But I am not going to bore you with the how-to minutiae of blogging. If you want a blog, you can figure out easily enough for yourself the relative ease of creating one and the difficulty of getting it to work the way that you want it to.

This post is not really going to be about wine, but rather the environment where I was finding the wine that I was drinking – California. Specifically some of the delicious options that can be found in Golden State.

WaitingCalifornia’s development as a major state in the Union was predicated on the completion of the two major transcontinental highways: The Lincoln Highway and Route 66. It is in this environment that the drive-through restaurant was born. And the first of its kind was the In-N-Out Burger that being in 1948.

In the weeks before the conference I heard people outside California posting on their blogs, Facebook and Twitter about the need to get themselves over to an In-N-Out Burger stand. As I had never had one, it seemed like a plan to go and see what the fuss was about. So I did. After the formal programs for the conference were over I got into my car and looked around for the nearest In-N-Out Burger joint (Which was easily found due to my onboard GPS system).

The place was packed. So I got in the line and waited for my turn. The boy in the headset soon came up to my car (or I moved up to his position) and placed my order. As instructed, I ordered the double-double (per Rory Gurland) animal-style (per Bill Daley and eaten in the same manner, no doubt). Next came the long drive up to the windows. First to pay. Then to collect my meal.  In fact, when I got to the pick up window, I announced to the woman manning (womanning?) it that this was my first In-N-Out Burger.  She smiled and said, “It won’t be your last… You enjoy that burger”.

What a Burger!I took it back to my hotel room where I ate it with relish (which is a description and a pun at the same time).  Oh, I did drink wine with it.  A Yellowtail Rose (which I have never seen in Chicago before).  The fries were perfect (ok. I ate those on the ride back to the hotel as they hold their temperature as well as an icecube in Death Valley).  The burger was delicious and juicy and I made a mess of myself… enjoying it thoroughly.

Afterwards, I took a long, long nap.  To prepare me for the day to come.

A Memphis Rendezvous

Gretchen Neuman
VinoVerve Editor

Charlie Vergo's Rendezvous

Charlie Vergo's Rendezvous

As I have mentioned before, the first thing you smell when you are coming out of your hotel door, in downtown Memphis, is the smell of BBQ. That may have been especially true for us as we were staying down the street from the world famous Charlie Vergo’s Rendezvous.

After a long morning and part of the afternoon of seeing the sights in Memphis we, Neumans, were famished and ready for something to eat. BBQ, perhaps? So we headed down Monroe Street past 2nd Street and entered Charlie Vergo’s Alley. As we headed down the stairs to the hostess desk, I told her, “We followed the smoke!” She just smiled and sent us down between a log row of tables and past the bar. We got there, we saw that more dining rooms, sprouted from where we were. We took our seats at a table between some Rockabilly musicians and school kids on a class trip from Georgia.

Why? Because this is a place with a story…

Kevin had read about the Rendezvous or watched it on tv… The place started by specializing in grilled ham and cheese sandwiches in the basement of an office building. And then, Charlie Vergo found that they had a coal shute and began smoking his own hams and chicken. Eventually a meat salesman (which my Dad used to do for a living for years) brought Charlie a case of ribs. The rest? Was history.

AppetizersWe ordered the appetizer platter. Sausage, ham, salami, cheese, pickles, peppers and crackers all tossed with the Rendezvous’s signature dry rub. And to drink? Well, here is the thing… All the white shirt and black bow-tied waiters all wore a button that said, “We Have Wine!”. And they did. Nothing spectacular. The kind of wine you can buy at any grocery store in Chicago. And it would have been fine. I could have had it.

But I didn’t.

It seemed wrong. (I don’t always have to drink wine. It just seems that way.)

Dry Rubbed Goodness

Dry Rubbed Goodness

It struck me that the Rendezvous was a joint about tradition. And to me? That means what’s on tap. And that was Michelob. So, drinking pitchers of beer and (for the kids) pitchers of Coke, we ordered our lunch. Kevin and I? Ribs. Dry rubbed and hardwood charcoal smoked, served with mustard slaw and beans and rolls. The girls? Sophie had ribs and chicken. Celia? The Greek salad. I know. It seemed INSANE. Though she did steal ribs off of Soph, so she could finish. And actually, the salad rocked. It was full of olives and feta and onions and included a dolmade (which I ate and LOVED). Amazing food. Good prices. Great service. It seems so simple. It is. But it is also indescribable.

Charlie isn’t running, the place anymore. His family is. And they know how important family and tradition is… since a lot of their staff have been with them for years… and by that, I mean decades and then THEIR kids come and work for the joint.

So you know it must be good.

Wine isn't ALWAYS the best choice.

Wine isn't ALWAYS the best choice.

Oh. And if you want to taste the ribs and can’t make it to Memphis? You can order them online here.

A Memphis Encore

Gretchen Neuman
VinoVerve Editor

Cinderella would be proud

Cinderella would be proud

It seemed strange that we had been on the road for 8 hours, been in 4 States and crossed the Mississippi twice to get to Memphis. When the clan finally pulled into town it was after 9:00pm. Everyone was tired. Everyone was hungry. That was the last thing that we all agreed upon. The girls wanted to stay at the hotel. Kevin and I wanted to go out. In the end, everyone got what they wanted. We stopped in the lobby of the hotel where there were frozen meals available and picked up microwaveable treats for the girls and Kevin and I headed out into the Memphian night.



The town was full of the smoky smell of BBQ and lively sounds of music. A horse drawn carriage that looked like it should come from Cinderella passed us by. Its LED lights of blues, greens and purples startled me. As we came out of our hotel we made our way to the corner and started down 2nd street. We walked down the street, passed open windowed bars with live music playing for the crowds and restaurants of all kinds. Sushi at Sekisui, Italian at Capriccio Grill, Seafood at Flying Fish, a Texas de Brazil churrascaria, even a Canadian themed place called The Kooky Canuck (I have NO idea what kind of food they served there, though I do assume they served beer. And lots of it.).

Silver Queen Corn Chowder

Silver Queen Corn Chowder

Kevin and I settled on Encore which was opened several years ago by the James Beard award winning Chef Jose Guitierrez. Still in our jeans and weary from the road, we (I) were (was) a bit concerned that we would be under dressed. But we appeared to be fine. Kevin ordered himself a Campari and Soda and me a Champagne cocktail that included Lillet Blanc (most excellent) and we began our meal.

Kevin started with the wild mushroom ravioli. It was served with a tomato fondu, basil and parmesean reggiano. The flavor of the mushroom filling was intense and included porcini. The pasta was delicate, clearly home made and the sauce a light accompiment. I started with the Silver Queen corn chowder with lobster and crab. It was rich with the flavor of the sweet white corn and topped with chunks of lobster and crab and crispy bacon.

Hopler Pinot Blanc

Hopler Pinot Blanc

With our main couses, we ordered a Hopler Pinot Blanc. This is an Austrian wine that was crisp and fresh with citrus and stood up to the sauces that dressed our meals. Kevin had the sea scallops that were stuffed with lobster claw meat and served over a bed of braised leeks, served with a lemongrass beurre blanc and garnished with chopped peanuts, cashews and ginger and a crispy wreath of shoestring potatoes. He loved it.

I had the grouper served over a warm lentil salad that included roasted mushrooms, potatoes, carrots as well as the puy lentils and dressed with a ginger citrus beurre blanc. The grouper was cooked perfectly. Crispy but tender and the salad included tiny bites of fresh ginger that surprised me every time I got a bit of them. The salad was so delicious that I could have skipped the fish entirely and still been happy.

Grouper with warm lentil salad

Grouper with warm lentil salad

For dessert, we split the bourbon vanilla ice cream which was delicious, while Kevin enjoyed a decaf irish coffee and I had the Grand Marnier flight which included one ounce pours of the regular, 100 year old and 150 year old versions of the liquer.

Ice Cream and Grand Marnier

Ice Cream and Grand Marnier

By the end of the meal we were a bit nervous that we had not heard from the usually nervous Sophie but glad that she and her sister had let us enjoy our meal. If you are ever in Memphis, it is well worth checking out.

Lynfred White Wines

Gretchen Neuman
VinoVerve Editor

I know what you are thinking, “The building is lovely, but how is the wine?”

And just so you know? I am getting there. Just in my own good time. I like savoring the sites and sounds as well as the tastes of a new adventure in wine.

As Kevin and I got ourselves settled for a tasting it was recommended that we start with the white wines.

The first wine that we tasted was the 2007 Gewurztraminer. I loved the smell in this glass. Flowers and tropical fruit, which continued into the drinking of it! I thought that the smell was like bananas with a touch of green apple and the taste was more like mango. The wine was overall dry but had a bit of sweetness that mellowed.

More sophisticated palates than mine might say lychee (nuts?) fruit. I think I have to eat more of them to pull that from my memory.

I love to drink wines like this with Asian or spicy food, or even better, spicy Asian food. (just writing that is making me miss the Tipsuda that used to exist in Hyde Park, a million oh, about 20 years ago.. of course back then I wouldn’t have had the sense to have a good Gewurztraminer with me, but rather a bottle of Canei…. Yes, you can). The tasting notes also suggest curries, pork, sauerkraut (choucroute garnie anyone? I make my own sauerkraut!) baked potatoes, Muenster cheese, turkey, salmon and fruit desserts. I concur.

Unfortunately, (or fortunately for me) you have to be a member of the wine club in order to purchase this wine. I am a member, so this is great! It is easy to join. Sign up here. It is easy peasy!

Next we had the 2006 Viognier, which to me tasted of honey and fruit which I thought orignially was peach. The tasting notes indicated apricot which I thought was pretty close.

I prefer to think that I blocked out the sense of it being apricot. See, I once suffered an apricot disaster when my cat, Clyde, sat himself in a cooling apricot tart (to show me who was boss). The subsequent weeks of pushing Valium down the cat’s throat has quite put me off of apricots… but clearly I vaguely remember their flavor.

The Viognier had a nice balanced taste of fruit and acid and a wonderful rich finish. The winery recommends serving it with seafood, such as prawns, salmon and swordfish as well as salads and antipasto.

The last white wine that we tasted was the 2007 Late Harvest Riesling. It had a beautiful golden color and the aroma of honey and pear. It was a heavier wine in terms of its viscosity, enhancing the mellifluous sense of the wine and felt velvety in my mouth.

Late harvest wines are often served with dessert and I can imagine this wine standing up to the acidity of lemony flavors and angel food cake. I can also imagine it being ideal with tangy goat cheeses.

Oh by the way? Lynfred has a wonderful bakery on premises and makes bread to use during tastings. BUY THIS BREAD. Particularly if you get a chance to try the Goat Cheese Mushroom Swiss. You won’t be sorry.

Up next: Red Wines

Food Influences

Marguerite Barrett

Contributing Writer
Gretchen and I became fans of Nigella Lawson years ago when her show, Nigella Bites, first began appearing on US cable.  Last year, she came to America on a book tour, and Gretchen and Imelda wandered down to the Drake Hotel in Chicago for an afternoon tea/book signing with Nigella.  
Of course you’re probably wondering what this has to do with wine.  Well, every so often a recipe is what spurs me to try something new – or rediscover something I haven’t had in a long time.  Usually these recipes are calling for something with a particular flavor (orange, anise, peach, raspberry, etc.) that enhances the flavors of the recipe.  And usually these are not things I drink regularly and thus am led to a new discovery.  In this case, a recipe led me back to Cider, something I haven’t had in quite some time.  
The other day as I was flipping through the copy of Nigella Express which Gretchen had picked up for me that day, I came across a recipe for Mustard-Glazed Pork Chops.  This sounded like the perfect dish for a very cold, snowy, New England winter evening.  The recipe called for 1/2 a cup of hard cider, which along with a 1/3 cup of heavy cream formed the base for the sauce – interesting…   Apple and Pork is a classic flavor combination, but it would never have occurred to me to throw it all together in a cream sauce…  A French twist on a dish that, to me, seems more British.
Intrigued, I trotted off to the local package store for a 6-pack of Strongbow English Cider.  The Cider is wonderful – that mellow sweetness that comes from the apples, and not too strong a yeast taste.   As part of the sauce it was overshadowed by the cream; next time I make the dish, I’ll adjust the measurements: more cider and mustard and a bit less cream.
But as an accompaniment to the meal, the Cider paired perfectly:  hearty, smooth, with the right amount of apple to complement the pork – it was extremely satisfying and just the right touch.  I finished off the meal with a potato-fennel gratin and brussels sprouts, and it was a perfect winter supper for an evening in front of the fire.

Dead Soldiers

Gretchen Neuman
VinoVerve, Editor

Here are some of the wines that we consumed with our Christmas feast. Before you get too judgemental, there were five adults at dinner and it was a leisurely dinner. Most of the wines that we had were red, including a Tablas Creek Syrah, a Warm Lake Estate Pinot Noir (which didn’t get photographed) but also a Riesling from Luxembourg. These wines were drunk with my homemade Turducken (a chicken stuffed into a duck and then stuffed into a turkey), salad, scalloped potatoes, Cajun dressing and creamed spinach.

After dinner, it was coffee, a cranberry and orange trifle (made with pannetone) and my homemade liqueur, Fiori di Sicilia…

I hope that your holiday feasts turned out as well!

Happy Holidays!