Chicago Is..

IMG_20150623_102710872Let’s do some word association. If I say Chicago, you say…………………………..Well if you are anything like me (and not from Chicago) then you think if things like big city, mob, cigars, sports (you pick, Cubs/Sox, Bears, Bulls, Blackhawks), and most of all COLD. What I do not think of immediately is food, or at least not good food, maybe a dog and a big steak. But when I stated telling people I was going to Chicago for a conference everyone started giving me lists of places “I had to try”. Fortunately I was going with another “food person” (not cool to call us foodies anymore) who had been to Chicago recently and knew a little bit about the landscape. After reviewing all the “lists” and doing a little bit of research we started to put together our game plan. Dinner was relatively easy aside from getting the reservations we wanted. The real trick was figuring out what parts of the conference we could duck out on to get lunch and when we needed to get back, but needless to say we had our motivation.

I landed late Monday evening. My colleague was not due in till the next day. He was not IMG_20150622_215404204interested in trying any Chicago style pizza, so I figured this was my chance since I had never had Chicago style pizza IN Chicago. As you can imagine I had lots of options, but given the time and location it was narrowed down to Giordano’s and Pequod’s . I chose Giordano’s even though Pequod’s had somewhat better reviews. I just wanted a classic, old fashioned stuffed pizza and Giordano’s seemed to fit the bill. IMG_20150622_212052251It came out looking exactly as I had envisioned and after eating the first piece while it was still too hot (and burning the roof of my mouth as I have done with hot pizza since childhood) I let it cool a little to let the flavors settle and mature. I was happy I did, not only did I stop burning the roof of my mouth but the pizza came alive and tasted, dare I say, exactly as I had envisioned. Lots of cheese, a dark robust tomato sauce, sausage, mushroom and olive. All of the flavors playing off each other along with the light crunchy crust. I am usually a thin crust pizza guy, but after that I will go for a real Chicago stuffed style pizza any time. Continue reading

Arizona…Not Forgotten

It’s been a while, ok it was August, since Troya and I visited Arizona. I know, that was my first thought too, AZ in Aug, that’s not very smart. But off we when to Sedona for a little well deserved relaxation and time together. I have been to Phoenix several times and I have to admit that my impression of the state was influenced by what you see in and around Phoenix. I had seen pictures of other parts of the state, most notably Sedona, but in my mind AZ had heat, Saguaro’s and, well, heat. I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised on several levels.

First of all driving up to Sedona from PHX airport is a trip I recommend. You get a real feeling of how not all desert is the same and you can definitely tell when you are in different parts of the state. Then, when you get to the Sedona area and see all the red

rock mountains rising up from the desert floor you know right away why this is considered a special, and for many people a spiritual, place. The resort we stayed at, L’Auberge de Sedona , was an incredible place with individual cabins overlooking a brook with running water and surrounded by tree’s and greenery, yes all this in AZ in IMG_20140807_174748726Aug. Can’t find that in California in August. Each cabin had its own deck and outside shower, Troya’s favorite part.  While it was hot, mid to upper 90’s, it never felt uncomfortable or limited us in doing anything (it’s a dry heat, right). Not only did not I expect our resort to be right on the brook, with an outdoor eating and imagelounge right on the banks, but I also did not expect water (outside of needing more while poolside) to play a major theme for the whole trip, from our afternoon picnic and wine sitting on the shores to a slow water river rafting trip with Verde Adventures. They also offer Wine tasting tours. What, you say, wine and rivers in Arizona?

And this brings us to the second big surprise of the trip. I knew that some people were making wine in Arizona but I have to IMG_20140808_140434903admit that I imagined it as roadside swill with little character. With the smile that comes with humble pie I can say that they are doing some truly amazing stuff with their wines. To appreciate AZ wine you will have to put aside your pre-conceived notion of what Arizona is and what it is not. Yes, Phoenix is Phoenix and I will not try to change that perception, but not one is growing grapes in Phoenix and not all of AZ is the valley of the sun. The state actually IMG_20140808_152429759_HDRhas many different climates and soils, all the ingredients for terrior. And while wine has been made in the state for many years at this time the big production wineries have been slow to take advantage. That means that the wines you do find here are generally smaller production with all the good and bad that comes from that. We spent our “wine tasting” time in the Cottonwood and Jerome area of the Verde Valley Wine Region. We did find some pretty bad wine, but IMG_20140808_153428243_HDRwe also found some really amazing wine with more flavor, layers and character then I would have ever expected. Caduceus Cellars really stood out with some amazing Rosé and one of the best Sangiovese’s  I have tasted. The highlight of the day was spending time at Passion Cellars IMG_20140808_161608651_HDRand getting to meet Cody Burkett, aka The Wine Monk. Passionate and entertaining, he was able to give a very concise overview on the history and business of Arizona wine. It’s a budding industry there but do not be surprised if they start making some noise and giving Cali a run.

When in Vegas……………

IMG_20140725_200042170_HDRI cannot say I a Las Vegas kind of guy. Swank I am ok with, decadency, not so much. I am not a gambler and while the people watching is unparalleled, I do not find much else to look forward to when I come to Vegas. That is until this trip. It started with a conversation with Tony at work. He mentioned he had just come back from Vegas and I said I was just about to leave. When I told him that I was staying at the Cosmopolitan, he started to tell me about a little known pizza place on the second floor. “It’s right next to Holstein’s” he said, “the place with the best burgers in Vegas”.  “Would you walk past Holstein’s to get the pizza?” I asked. “No” he replied.  Well, that’s and easy decision I thought.

So in I walked, expecting a typical well hyped Vegas meal with little to show when all IMG_20140725_185843648was said and done. I sat at the bar and was instantly greeted by Toshi. He started to tell me about the over 100 beers they had available and then asked what I was interested in. I told him I was interested in a stout. He listed off several they had available and then asked me to wait. He returned with a Left Coast Ale Epeteios Imperial Stout and said I would not be disappointed. How could I refuse, and I am glad I didn’t. A very nice, deep flavored stout with coffee and dark chocolate flavors and a clean finish. He then proceeded to recommend several burgers on the menu that would pair well with my choice of beverage. I choose the The Fun-Ghi , a beef Patty with truffle marinated portabella mushrooms, caramelized Onions and gruyere cheese. I am well versed with wine and food pairing, but here was a BEER and food pairing that made me stop, smile, and slowly enjoy every bite. I can honestly say it was the best burger I have had and the pairing made it a meal to remember.

Thank you Toshi for the hospitality, recommendations, and reminding me how good beer and food pairing can be. I will be back!

#WBC14 in the rear view mirror

IMG_20140711_110805016Well the 2014 Wine Bloggers Conference in Santa Barbara is behind us and here are my thoughts on the conference itself and the region we got to visit. I would not call myself a conference veteran but Troya and I did go to the 2013 WBC so I knew what to expect. This was Brax and Hills first time though so I will be interested to hear their thoughts. The concept is to bring like-minded people, wine bloggers in this case, together in a wine-producing region to network with each other, network with the wineries in the area and learn about their chosen craft or hobby in a way that otherwise would not be possible. Oh, and we get to drink a lot of wine too.

This year’s visiting country was Portugal. I have been intrigued by this area of the world for a while now so I was excited to taste some of their wines, both with food and in a traditional tasting setting. I was very impressed with the wines themselves and how they paired with a number of foods. While they have a long history of wine making they are just recently being recognized by the wine drinking world. Last year Uruguay was the featured country and we were equally impressed. Now I have another on my “must visit” list.

Maybe it was just because it was my first time but last year I was a little more impressed IMG_20140711_173430069_HDRwith the break-out sessions. Some of the themes were similar and all of the information was relevant but I thought last year the information was just a little more directed to the world of blogging. We did have a writing critique break-out (sorry if no one notices any improvement here) and while the information was very valuable with regard to writing in general, and writing to an audience, writing a blog is a very different style then print or formal publications so not all of their advice and recommendations were transferable.  It’s a little like having a ballet professional judge a hip hop contest. We did get to taste some great wine, not just from Santa Barbara County and Portugal but also from Greece, Chile, Italy and France. Yeh, I know, tough job huh. Unfortunately, unlike last year when they did a great job of show-casing the beauty of the BC area, this time it felt like we spent a lot of time in tents.

IMG_20140711_173327859We have wanted to get down to the Santa Barbara area to do some tasting for a while now buts it’s just so hard to drive past Paso without stopping. This was a good excuse to get to know the region and its people. Santa Barbara County has 5 official AVA’s and have over 200 wineries. Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Syrah are the big players here but they grow more than 50 varietals. We got to view a press release for a podcast done by Vintage 2014 called “dirt don’t lie” that follows the regions growers and wine through the 2014 season. Very well done and more informative than I could ever be so if you want the real low down on the area it is available on iTunes. Bottom line is this seems like a rather close knit group of wine makers that do a great job on their own but also collaborate a lot to produce some very distinctive and pleasing wine. I was able to enjoy several very good wines produced here but for me the wine maker that stood out was Blair Fox. He is the wine maker for Fess Parker but also has his own label. He was pouring a Syrah at one of our events that made me walk away from the crowd so I could enjoy it alone. That good.  I am looking forward to a return trip to the region and will especially look into more of the Syrah’s since I was not able to taste very many on this trip.

The highlight of the weekend was meeting and getting to know a bunch of new people IMG_20140711_175000370and leaning about the latest and greatest in the world of wine. We got to spend a lot of time with Denelle who works for Vital Vessels, a company that produces “eggs” for wine and spirit production. A very cool concept, similar to concrete, but these are ceramic so they breathe a bit better and their shape allows an internal current to keep the product at a constant cool temperature. This process allows the wine to mature with very little interruption and the end result is a very smooth and flavor full wine. The idea of making wine in an “egg” shaped vessel has been around for a long time but has recently revived (what’s old is new again).  If you have not already, I am sure you will come across a winery that is using this process soon (inside tip: Vital Vessels also makes a small-sized egg that is perfect for some viticulture at home). We were also introduced to Wine4.me and Quini, two mobile aps for wine drinkers that might succeed where the some of the others have failed. Wine4.me uses analytics (like the baseball teams) to help identify wine you might like after you enter some data on wines you already know you like and why. It’s meant for those that just want to be told what to get with a certain meal instead of guessing or relying on someone who does not know them at all. Quini is a tasting notes aps that is touch screen based and very user-friendly. You can quickly produce a note on a specific wine and then see what your personal ranking of that wine is. You can also put in your own personal notes if you have something specific to say and also see how others are ranking same wine. All of the information is stored on a cloud so you can access your notes from any web-based device to help you recall a wine or pair a wine with a specific meal. While only available on the iphone platform right, it should be available for droid devices soon. With a few updates they are working on this might be enough of an ap to make me stop thinking about creating my own.

All in all it was a great weekend and a great introduction to the Santa Barbara County wine region. We will definitely be back, even if we do have to pass up on Paso Robles to get there. I am looking forward to tasting more of the wines from the area and specifically tasting more from Blair Fox. Cheers!

Wine Bloggers Conference 2014

image

1100 hrs
Waaahoooo.  We have just landed in Santa Barbara for the 2014 Wine Bloggers conference.  Not wasting any time, we are starting out with wines from Portugal.  Herdade eo Esporao- Duas Castas Branco 2012 was my favodrite white.  Floral, fruity crisp.  More to follow.

1146 hrs
Just tasted Quinta do Romeu- Colheita Douro Tinto 2010 paired with a Brazilian Frittata.. OMG.. Great alone too.  Big fruit but lite with alcohol.

1400 speed blogging
Aridus vigionier. Born and raised in Wilcox Arizona.

Alta Maria 2012 Chardonnay. The neutral French Oak created a  lite buttery hint that does not overshadow the grape.  Velvet on the palate.

Fess Parker 2012 Viognier.  Yes, Fess Parker the actor.  If you are as old as Hill, you will remember him.  Ooh, nice and clean on the palate, fruit forward with hints of oak and caramel.

Terravant 2011 Chardonnay.  Monterey grapes. Classic Chardonnay.  Deep, rich. Complex.

Pacific Rim from Columbia Valley Wa.  Riesling. Owner is Nicolas Quilla created the sweetness meter called Riesling Rule.  This one was dry per the meter.

Urban Legend from Oaktown. 2011 Grenache Blanc.  Capay Valley grapes.  Fruity, dry.

1530 Wine Blends

Blind tasting of wine blends from around the world.  Excellant.

1700. Santa Barbara winery excursion

We got on the short bus for a mystery trip to an unknown winery for tasting and dinner.  We ended up at Melville winery.  Chad Melville gave us a tour.  Tasted some berries right off the vine. Then, we went into the tasting room and tasted 7 wineries.  My poor liver.

We tasted; Alma Rosa, Melville, Brewer-Clifton, Lafond, Zotovich, Carr, Ampelos,  and Babcock.

Saturday 0930 hours

First class of the day.  Business of wine.  Eye opening. Thank you Tim Hanni and Paul.