My Oeno-homage to Stephen Colbert

Love him or hate him, Stephen Colbert has provided an invaluable service to us all by individually highlighting our nations congressional districts on the Colbert Report in segments known as “Better Know a District”.

We here at VinoVerve think that he is on to something…. Especially if you start to apply the concept to wine.

The American Viticulture Areas are designations established by the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF, yes, really, I thought it sounded crazy too) which has in our post 9/11 world has been re-designated as the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB). The AVAs are indications of a shared terroir (geography and geology), wine making history and name recognition. In this sense it is more like the Italian Indicazione Geografica Tipica.

Why do we think that we should learn more about the AVAs? Well consider how many you know about. Napa Valley? Russian River Valley? Heck, do you know any outside of California? You do? How about outside of the west coast? Ok, smarty pants… how about outside of New York? Now, I have you.

It turns out that the first AVA designated in the US was in Missouri. Surprise!

Did you know that there have been active wineries in the Altus AVA for over 100 years? Oh and so you know, Altus is in Arkansas.

In honor of our new appreciation for American wine regions, we are going to begin exploring them in a segment that I have dubbed:

The Stephen T. Colbert Memorial: Better Know an AVA….

Let the truthiness begin!

pixelstats trackingpixel

Destination Sommelier

Some of us choose a restaurant based on the wine list. Quality of food, of course, is a factor, as is the friendliness and efficiency of service, but, if you are like me, it is the wine program, or the Sommelier responsible for it, which matters most.

Henry Bishop is a name I had heard more than a year ago from a trusted member of the Chicago wholesale community. The name Henry Bishop surfaced again last week, when a new colleague of mine mentioned that she had dined at a mexican restaurant called Salpicon. She spoke highly of Henry Bishop, specifically a sense of humor and a penchant for the esoteric. I looked at the restaurant’s website,, which has the wines organized by country, and in some cases by producer. At that moment I had decided that I was going to eat there. I was not phased by the quixotic combination between a serious wine program and a mexican concept, and didn’t even look at the dinner menu.

I met Kevin and Maman for dinner at Salpicon last Thursday. We started with guacamole and chips, and three ‘Salpicon Margaritas’ (when in Rome…). It felt like a typical mexican restaurant experience. We asked if Henry was in, he was. Henry Bishop approached, introductions were made, common acquaintances referenced. We asked him to pair wines with our ‘tasting menu’ (always order the tasting menu). What happened next turned our typical mexican restaurant experience into a stimulating and thoroughly unique adventure into the [other] world of wine.

Henry Bishop’s Wine Pairings
1.Pere Ventura Brut Nature NV Cava, Sant Sadurní d’Anoia, Spain
2.2005 Firelands Winery Gewurztraminer, Isle St. George, Sandusky, Ohio
3.1997 Villa Guntrum, Oppenheimer Schützenhütte, Kabinett Halbtrocken, Rheinhessen
4.2006 Dubaril Gamay Romand Rosé, Cave de La Côte-Uvavins, Morges, Switzerland
5.2005 Summers Winery Charbono, Villa Andriana Vineyard, Calistoga, Napa, California
6.2006 Emilio Bulfon Piculìt Neri, Valeriano, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Italy
7.La Face Cachee de la Pomme, Neige, Apple Ice Wine, Quebec, Canada
8.Mount Pleasant Tawny Port, Augusta, Missouri

Each of the above wines delivered quality and balance and would have been acceptable under any circumstance. But what occurred that night was special, an adventure through six countries, two forgotten but important historical wine producing states, and french canadian apple orchards that employ cryoconcentration and cryoextraction to produce a unique and exotic ‘wine’. Henry had us in the palm of his hand. Each time he arrived at the table with a new wine meant a new surprise and new fork in the road of our conversation.

If you are like me, you choose a restaurant because of it’s wine list. And if you are like me, and enjoy to place yourself at the mercy of a talented and intuitive Sommelier, visit Salpicon and ask for Henry Bishop. Or, if you have a Sommelier that has earned your trust as Henry has mine, then please share your story and contact us at Destination Sommelier.

pixelstats trackingpixel

WOW! – America’s Wine Heritage

Recently had dinner at Salpicon, an authentic Mexican restaurant in Chicago’s Old Town neighborhood. A bright, fun, festive place. We chose the tasting menu with wine pairings. The food was excellent and varied, each dish accompanied by an outstanding sauce, that, at times, outshone the actual meat or fish on the plate. However, what really wowed me was the wine. Presided over by former Spiaggia (Chicago) sommelier, Henry Bishop, Salpicon’s wine list is truly extraordinary. Not solely for the fact that I never really associate wine with Mexican food, albeit haute Mexican cuisine, but for the fact that so many geographic surprises were represented. Henry poured each with such an intimate knowledge of each label from areas I did not expect. We had wine from Switzerland – a first for me. A Gewurztraminer grown on the banks of Lake Erie. A wonderful Tawny from Missouri – the first state to have an AVA designation.

These last two I mention for the fact that the wine pairings created in me an appreciation for America’s wine heritage. Sure Old World wines predate the US industry by several centuries and wine has been made for thousands of years, but I now understand that we have been producing wine in this country commercially since the early 1800’s. Jefferson and Franklin would likely correct me that it has been even earlier. But what struck me is that these early US wineries are still producing. Arkansas, the state with the eighth bonded winery in the US, had its wine business founded by Swiss immigrants arriving here in the 1800’s. It’s still going today. These facts guided the wonderful conversation even if we did not have a particular wine from a US region – we still spoke of all the US had to offer (Alaska too!). We had so much fun celebrating the diverse lands where grapes can truly thrive. What a wonderful night, Henry, thanks for the history lesson.

pixelstats trackingpixel

Grapevine News

Spicing Up Wining And Dining

Abe Opincar, writing for Food and Wine profiles wineries in Baja, Mexico, including Casa de Piedra, Château Camou, MogorBadan Winery, Paralelo, Tres Mujeres, Viña de Liceaga, Viñas Pijoan. Finally! Something besides cerveza and margaritas to sip on while munching your nachos…

Martha Stewart Living’s Matt and Ted Lee discuss blended wines, such as Cantine ArgiolasCostera, Mulderbosch Vineyard’s Faith Hound, and Conumdrum.

Bill Daley at the Chicago Tribune tells us about ten wines available in the Chicago area that we SHOULD be drinking but are probably not. 2006 Chateau Ste. Michelle Riesling Eroica, 2006 Dry Creek Vineyard Clarksburg, 2006 Frog’s Leap La Grenouille Rougante Pink, Lustau Pedro Ximenez Solera Reserva San Emilio, 2004 Charles Krug Merlot, 2005 Lynfred Winery Charbono, 2004 Las Rocas Vinas Viejas Garnacha, 2004 Laurenz V. Charming Gruner Veltliner, 2005 Marc Kreydenweiss Gewurztraminer, and the 2006 Quady Electra Orange Muscat.’s Jamie Rhein, posts about the Newport Mansions Wine & Food Festival taking place September 27-29th. The event will feature food by Jacques Pepin and local chef as well as wine from nearly 200 vineyards. Funds raised will benefit The Preservation Society of Newport County.

And finally,

Via Nerve’s Scanner Column, wines to help you close the deal! Mudgee Wines of Australia launches a line of wines featuring positions of the Kama Sutra. Varieties available include: The Union of the Butterfly (Shiraz), The Union of the Crab (Chardonnay), The Union of the Star (Cabernet Sauvignon), and The Union of the Monkey (Durif). Special promotions include a wine gift pack each month to a newsletter subscriber and a drawing for a free case of wine each day for an attendee of the local sexpo.

pixelstats trackingpixel

Fox Valley Winery

A couple of weeks a go, Kevin and I visited several wineries…

This is the second in the series.

Fox Valley Winery was the most commercially viable winery that we saw on our little outing. The vineyard is not open to the public except on certain occasions, but there are three tasting rooms. One in Oswego which also contains the winery and a tasting room, and other tasting rooms in Sandwich and Geneva.

Kevin and I went to the Geneva tasting room which is in an auspicious location on 3rd Street. This is auspicious since the town of Geneva seems populated with couples waiting to get rid of their unwanted visitors so that they can make use of his application of Cialis. The town bans skateboarders and unaccompanied minors (as near as I could tell) which meant that the shop operated at a peaceful hum.

The woman behind the counter was clever and knowledgeable and full of the family lore that would accompany a family business… We particularly enjoyed the story of a wine called Grandmas Blush… It turns out that the family’s grandmothers enjoyed a regular white zinfandel but were told that a redder wine was better for their health… As a result the family came up with a wine with a white zinfandel-type wine with more color and body. Ahhhh.. suddenly Grandma, physician and family are all happy.

Fox Valley also produces another 24 wines that range from dry to sweet and include:

  • Chardonel
  • Seyval Blanc
  • Vidal Blanc
  • Deux Blanc
  • George’s Red
  • 2004 Chambourcin
  • 2005 Traminette
  • 2004 Traminette
  • Riesling
  • Grandma’s Blush
  • 2004 Vignoles
  • Niagara
  • White Cin
  • Old Glory Red
  • Old Glory White
  • Old Glory Blue (not available at the time of our tasting)
  • 2005 Chambourcin – (not available at the time of our tasting)
  • 2003 R.A. Faltz Vintner Reserve
  • 2004 R.A. Faltz Vintner Reserve
  • 2005 R.A. Faltz Vintner Reserve – (not available at the time of our tasting)
  • Reserve Chardonel
  • 2005 Reserve Vignoles
  • Ruby Zin
  • 2005 Chardonnay Reserve
  • 2006 Chardonnay Reserve

Fox Valley Winery:

5600 Route 34
Oswego, Illinois 60543

120 South Main Street
Sandwich, Illinois 60548

33 S. 3rd Street
Geneva, Illinois 60134

pixelstats trackingpixel

Tasting Injury

I have heard of ridiculous injuries. Professional athletes sidelined by blisters on their thumbs, blisters acquired from playing video games, for example. Yesterday I burned my tongue on extremely hot coffee. No bid deal for most, but for someone who relies on his sense of taste everyday, a debilitating situation. Today I will be tasting wine, although I have a feeling that I will not be able to really taste much of anything. It’s not that unusual to have your palate in a weird place, and even the slightest head cold can turn your senses upside down, but this time I did it to myself, and that’s what really hurts.

One of my mentors in the wine world, Greg Harrington, a Master Sommelier, once told me of a friend who burnt his tongue on coffee the day of a blind tasting exam. That is much worse, I suppose. Blind tasting in front of your peers, or Master Sommeliers for that matter, can be nerve racking as it is. Six glasses are put in front of you, and you have 24 minutes to complete a “blind” analysis of each down to varietal, region, vintage, and sometimes the producer. The point of this is not to, Svengali like, entertain at cocktail parties. Rather, the blind analysis and tasting method practiced by members of the Court of Master Sommeliers is a very useful professional exercise that hones the some of the essential skills of a Sommelier.

Blind Tasting Skills
Speed – First, because of the time limit format, you are trained to be decisive and confident in our choices. In a professional situation, when communicating to a guest a recommendation, quick and confident is a necessity.

Jargon – Second, blind analysis method forces you to connect a sensory experience to vocabulary. The majority of guest who come into your restaurant know what they like, or, at least know what they have liked before. However, they are not experienced enough to say “I like high acid, aromatic whites with a touch of residual sugar” or “I do not like high tannins, unless they are balanced by sweet fruit and appropriate acidity”. They will struggle to communicate their tastes with term like dry, sweet, sharp. It is up to the Sommelier to help them turn their tastes into words, or at least, into the bottle that they really want with dinner.

Experience- Third, the practice of blind analysis requires you to taste. A lot. To develop the skills and understand the nuances that differentiate Austrian Gruner Veltliner from Austrian Reisling, you must go through a fair amount of each.

That said, I will be on holiday from blind tasting until my coffee burn has healed.

pixelstats trackingpixel

I wine about Martha

Like many women, I have a love/hate relationship with Martha Stewart. There are days when she inspires me be more creative in my approach to cooking or kid’s projects… and then there are other days when I feel demoralized by the Wonder that is Martha. She cooks better than I do… or at least making it appear more appetizing, she can sew and decorate and throw a party and clean (not that I give her much of a run for her money on that account) all with more style, panache and elan than I.

But at the end of the day, when I feel weary and beaten by Martha, I was always able to have a sip or three of wine and suddenly I felt like me again.

Until now.

Now she has invaded my wine too!

From this morning’s Modesto Bee:

Martha Stewart lifts glass to Gallo deal


The High Five are the five most-read stories, updated hourly.

When it comes to selling wine, could there be any name as recognizable as Gallo?

Sure there could. It’s Martha Stewart.

The doyenne of domestic arts announced Friday that she has joined with E.&J. Gallo Winery of Modesto to market three wines under her name.

The $15 bottles from Gallo’s Sonoma County operation will be sold in six

U.S. cities, none of them in California.

“We just wanted to produce a wine that she would be proud to put her name on,” Gallo spokeswoman Susan Hensley said.

The partnership has its roots in Stewart’s visit

to Modesto in 1990 to speak to the Omega Nu women’s group. Among the spectators was

Marie Gallo, daughter-in-law of winery co-founder Julio Gallo.

She and Stewart have remained friends. Stewart donated $10,000 in June to the soon-to-open Gallo Center for the Arts in downtown Modesto.

A 2000 installment of Stewart’s television show featured Gina Gallo, who is Marie Gallo’s daughter and oversees the Sonoma winemaking.

“There’s a long-standing relationship and a personal one between Martha Stewart and the Gallo family, and it’s based on their mutual love of food and wine and entertain- ing,” said Elizabeth Estroff, vice president of corporate communications for Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia Inc.

The company, based in New York City, provides advice on cooking, decorating, gardening and other skills through books and magazines, and on TV, radio and the Internet. It remains a force in these areas despite the founder’s five-month prison term following a 2004 conviction in an insider-trading case.

The Martha Stewart wines are a 2005 chardonnay, a 2006 merlot and a 2005 cabernet sauvignon — 15,000 cases in all in the first release. They will be sold starting in January in Atlanta, Boston, Charlotte, N.C., Denver, Phoenix and Portland, Ore.

“These cities are a good geographical representation of the country,” Hensley said. Sales in other cities are not in the works, she said, nor are partnerships with other celebrities.

In Friday’s news release on the Martha Stewart wines, Chief Executive Officer Joe Gallo said the winery is “pleased to help bring her vision of wine and everyday entertaining to life.”

Stewart said in the same release, “As a former caterer and a lifelong hostess, I understand the important role wine can play at a gathering. The wines were crafted with great care and attention to every detail.”

pixelstats trackingpixel

Playing with your Wine!

Wine doesn’t always have to be serious. Bottle carefully opened. Cork inspected. Swirled in the glass, inhaled and finally sipped.

Sometimes it can be cool and fruity and fun.

Like Sangria!

Traditionally sangria is a red wine based punch (sangria comes from the Spanish word sangre meaning blood). It is considered an informal social drink to be consumed during the summer. The chief ingredients include:

Chopped fruit
A sweetener
Liquor (often Triple Sec or Brandy)
Sparkling Lemonade

When white wine is used the drink is called either sangria blanca or zurra.

Any variety is a delicious light way to share wine with friends!

pixelstats trackingpixel

New Wineries Everywhere!

It turns out that I can’t go anywhere without running into a new winery. The next up on my list to visit is Freedom Run Winery. Its location? Lockport, NY. My hometown.

Not surprisingly there was always wine being grown in that area. My dad even made wine when I was a girl… Hmmm, who would have guessed how that would have influenced me. It turns out that Freedom Run is one of about five wineries clustered in the Lockport/Cambria area.

So now, when I head out east for my grandmother’s centennial celebration, I will be able to explore more Win(e)ding Roads!

pixelstats trackingpixel

Bedell Cellars/Corey Creek

Yes, this entry is from a trip we took a while ago, (within the last month though). It sure would have been nice to go to wineries in both New York and Illinois this weekend. Talk about your labor day! Work, work, work.. that is all I do! (Yes, I know that I am tasting wine which is no particular hardship for me… I am just teasing)

Kevin and I discovered Bedell and Corey Creek Vineyards years ago when trapped on one of my father-in-law’s infamous “Drives”. During these scenarios we are all trapped in a van with insufficient air conditioning or safety harnesses while we traversed the east end of Long Island looking at the houses of every person my father-in-law has ever met or heard of. That being said, the wineries were one of the few treasures of these trips.

These days, we tend to go by ourselves without chainsmokers or children in tow to be able to linger and listen to the stories from the vintners as they tell their grapish tales. Ahhh, this is the life, right? Darn tootin’ it is!

Inevitably, Corey Creek and Bedell are among our favorite wineries out east. Located about 15 miles east of Riverhead, NY the vineyards and tasting rooms are located along Route 25. Wines from both vineyards are available at either tasting room.

Our favorites from the Bedell Cellars include the 2005 Taste Red, blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Syrah and 2005 Reserve Merlot. Other selections available include:

  • 2006 Taste White
  • 2005 Bedell Gallery
  • 2005 Merlot
  • Main Road Red
  • Main Road White

The Corey Creek wine that I can’t live without is the Domaine CC Rosé. Made in the style of a Provençale rosé, it is dry and fruity and light, which I find perfect for summer. This year there has been increased attention give to rosé wines and unfortunately for me, this has meant decreased supplies of my favorite (Perhaps next year the crowds will move back to Chardonnay). Kevin’s favorite is the Late Harvest Riesling which is sweeter and more fruity and perfect for the ending of nice dinner. Other Corey Creek Options include:

  • 2005 Reserve Chardonnay
  • 2005 Chardonnay
  • 2005 Cabernet Franc
  • Raspberry
  • 2006 Gewürztraminer (sadly, sold out)

As members of their wine club, at least we won’t have to wait all year to get another taste!

pixelstats trackingpixel