Jason Finn’s eminent wine program is of “Epic” proportions

Chicago’s restaurant scene has been punctuated in recent years by creative restaurants that, often successfully, are the anti-steak house. The music isn’t crooned by Frank Sinatra, the vibe is sharp and edgy, and items like pork belly and charcuterie have almost become de rigueur.

But, some eateries that push the envelope get a little too creative. No one has blended mango and celery root with a topping of canned chocolate sauce yet – thankfully – but it gets a little funky out there.

That’s where River North’s Epic Restaurant heroically finds the happy medium. Sure, it has the aforementioned pork belly (fabulous), but Mark Pollard’s menu ranges from adventuresome – lobster claws with grapefruit, fennel and pumpkin oil – to a great, cold weather favorite: short ribs.

The same can be said about Epic’s wine list. Wine Director/Manager Jason Finn has assembled equilibrium between well-known producers that resonate in the market, and boutique offerings that aren’t top-of-mind, but allow more adventuresome wine drinkers to indulge in some ownership of something unique.

Jason sat down with Value Wine Chicago recently to discuss the wine industry and the value sector, too:

Value Wine Chicago: What is the philosophy behind your wine list? Is it food driven or more about finding niche wines, or a blend of those two precepts?

Jason Finn: The wine list is assembled based on both food pairings and wines that stand out. When buying a wine, the primary concern is how it will work with the menu. But, our clientele is also one that leans significantly – about 70-80 percent – toward domestic wines. Fruit forward wines from California are the ones that move more quickly. I do like having a less regionally focused list, which allows me to hit sweet spots for a broader guest base. Still, I’ve structured the list so that it’s anchored by names that command respect. This way, I can be in the middle ground between recognizable, quality brands and boutique wines. Many times, the smaller-production wines provide the guest with a feeling that they’re getting something exclusive. I firmly believe that when you ask people to step outside their comfort zone – say a guest who tends to prefer Spanish wines – you have to provide them with some options from California that will have a similar flavor profile. I have conversations with people, and I’ll read their reactions to things. One has to be very careful to have enough options so that a wine-friendly guest who likes familiarity doesn’t feel alienated.

VWC: How do you feel consumer views of wine have changed since the recession? Are people still valuing quality, but experimenting a bit, to get more “bang for the buck”?

JF: Yes, very much so. And where I see that primarily is in the realm of Spanish wine. There are really some great values in South America, and from Italy, especially in the IGT-level wines. But, Spanish wine is what I recommend when I get the impression from a guest that they’re looking for value. I think what’s happened with Spanish wine over the last 10-20 years is that there is a focus among some Spanish winemakers – and I think it’s a growing segment among Spain’s winemaking community – that is catering to an American palate. By that I mean more forward fruit, cleaner-tasting wines that are less earthy and dusty. The fruit is easier to identify. In South America, of course, the great examples are Malbec and Bonarda from Argentina, plus the Carmenère from Chile. Malbec is a varietal starting to see the prices actually increase, because higher-end Malbecs are available now. It used to be used only as a blending grape, and then it was made as a single-varietal wine. Now, the market has single-vineyard Malbecs. But, for the most part, Malbec remains a great value wine; many truly overperform for the price point.

VWC: Say the economy rebounds over the next few years. Will the “Cult Cabs” rebound again? Or, will people just be looking for more expensive versions of obscure/boutique wines?

JF: I think both will be true. Because of the recession, many lesser known regions and producers have been itching to get into the game, and have been able to offer wines with the American consumer in mind. By doing that, they’ve gained huge market share. I don’t think that’s going to go away just because the economy might (recover). What I believe will happen is, you’ll see some return to the very expensive Napa Cab again. People who have disposable funds will buy what they want. But, a number of people who have been drinking entry-level Malbec – they might move up to single-vineyard Malbec, which might be twice as much. They’ll still be within the realm of something that got them interested in wine in the first place.

VWC: What are your favorite white and red wines, for less than $17 at retail, and what would you pair with each?

JF: One white varietal I recommend at good value is German Riesling, and I really like the Hexamer Spätlese. What makes a Riesling stand out is its fruit, but the Hexamer has good acidity. I’d recommend the poached lobster with it. The sweetness of the lobster meat complements the wine, but the acidity also cuts into that sweetness of the lobster, and provides balance.

For a red, I’d recommend a Spanish Rioja, a 2005 Reserva from Marques de Caceres. I’ve never had a guest not like it, and it’s phenomenal at its price point. It’s outstanding with our short rib entrée. But, it’s versatile enough to pair with poultry, too.

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Due Lire: Italian influences invigorate Lincoln Square

Chicago boasts a (Mediterranean) sea of Italian restaurants – featuring big portions and mammoth wine lists. Many are located in the Loop or near downtown, or are chains – some of which are known for promoting family to show the value of marketing prowess.

Nevertheless, the impetus for opening an Italian restaurant can be traced to an actual family experience of the owner/proprietor. For Massimo DiVuolo, his Neapolitan childhood was punctuated by the traditional Sunday lunch, which he helped prepare with his mother and grandmother.

The aromas, flavors, wine (moderate underage drinking isn’t taboo in Italy) and conviviality of the kitchen and table percolated in DiVoulo’s imagination long after he arrived on U.S. shores 20 years ago. After working in the catering and restaurant industries, DiVuolo decided it was time to open his own place, based on his childhood experiences: Due Lire.

For DiVuolo, it was an actual recollection of family values – not the ones associated with political campaigns or marketing initiatives – that propelled his vision for a menu and wine list. DiVuolo and his co-owner, Chef Kevin Abshire, are from very different origins (Abshire is from Louisiana). But, they share a vision of Italian-inspired cuisine that’s based on fresh, simple, seasonal ingredients – and on a friendly atmosphere of celebrating life through food and wine, without ostentatious grandstanding.

Value Wine Chicago sat down with Massimo DiVuolo recently to discuss the industry – and, of course, the value sector:

Value Wine Chicago: Tell me about how you went about assembling your wine list. Are these wines all selected from individual tastings, or are they driven by the entrées or the seasons? Your wines don’t lean heavily to Italian, either…

Massimo DiVuolo: I taste everything. And, I explain up front to salespeople and distributors what I like, and I prefer if they bring me two or three samples here and there rather than 10 bottles at once. I like to offer affordable wines, and wines that I’ve really enjoyed during my tastings. The objective: Value and a food-driven list. What I try to do is combine the food with the wines that I’m putting on the list. At the beginning, I was going to do all Italian. But I was surprised how much great wine I could get from some wonderful, different regions: South Africa, Spain, Portugal. And when I find a good wine that pairs with our food, it will be added to our list. The new regions and new markets offer great value. Chile and Argentina are examples of this. These new markets really want the world to know about their wine.

VWC: Do you switch out a number of wines on the list quite frequently? If so, why?

MD: I’ll change out some of them month-by-month. Basically, I want to be able to keep 60-70 percent of the list intact so that when the people look at it, they can be assured that for $30-$35, they’ll be ordering consistently good wine. But I do [make some frequent changes] because I’ll go to the table and listen to what customers say. I like for them to taste a wine that might be outside of their comfort zone, but is comparable to what they’re used to. People get very excited, because maybe they’ve never heard of the Cataratto grape from Sicily. It’s typically a blending grape, but the producers in Sicily are now [featuring it on its own]. The Cataratto is stainless-steel fermented, and its fruit aspects are very straightforward – apricot, and a little bit of peach. Another we’ve added recently is the Gagliardo Fallegro Favorita Bianco Piemonte 2010. It’s a clone of Vermentino, and has such an easy, crisp taste. There’s a hint of sea salt and caramel in this wine [for an added dimension]. If you like Pinot Grigio, you should try this wine. The crispness and acidity are there, but with a different element – very new to a palate that’s used to Pinot Grigio. Still, I always remember: This is the customers’ wine list; not mine. I create the list and propose it to them. If they don’t like it, that’s their right.

VWC: Please suggest your favorite wines – both a white and a red – that cost less than $18 at retail. What’s your favorite dish to pair with each wine?

MD: For a white wine, I like the Villa Matilde Falanghina Campania. Its dryness and crispness remind me of a Sauvignon Blanc, but it’s not as grassy or green. There’s a bit more of grapefruit to it. I like it with the Pesce Persico on our menu. The Pesce Persico is a flash-fried perch, served with a citrus arugula salad and a watermelon radish.

For a red, I like the Beckmen Cuvee Le Bec from Saint Ynez, paired with the Maialino Delicato. This is a roast pork loin that’s served over a risotto parmigiano with an apricot-fennel demi-glace. The richness of the pork really pairs nicely with this red blend. The Mourvedre has some fruitiness plus structure, and the Syrah adds a touch of spice in the background. It’s a great balanced wine that won’t overpower the dish.

Posted in Blended wines, Full-bodied red wines, Mediterranean wines, Obscure white wines | 1 Comment

Michael Diversey’s: A Chicago pub’s wine program wins customers

Even though he grew up in Hammond, Ind., Jack Lewis always thought of himself as a Chicagoan. But Lewis – the affable owner of Michael Diversey’s Tavern in Lakeview – had to venture much further to the southeast than Hammond to catch the wine bug.

There was a Ruth’s Chris Steak House in Columbia, S.C., (the first in the  state) and it needed a big wine list. Lewis was put in charge of assembling one that featured 340 bottles.

That was an education,” says Lewis. “And my wine education never stops; it’s a moving animal.”

Lewis was ready to move after his sojourn to the Deep South, aching to  get back “home” to Chicago. His vision to build a business of his own crystallized with Michael Diversey’s. It’s a distinctly Chicago tavern – neighborly, casual and fun – but one that embraces the foodie and wine culture.

The increased emphasis on wine has not only been good for Lewis’s business, it’s also helped to establish Michael Diversey’s as a place to learn about the basics of wine and food pairings. Value Wine Chicago sat down with Jack Lewis recently to discuss the value sector of the wine industry, and what might be afoot in 2012 and beyond:

Value Wine Chicago: This is known as a tavern and has a tavern/pub/beer history. What went into the decision to “pair” wine with an image that’s not often associated with it?

Jack Lewis: This restaurant actually opened as a franchise called Firkin & Pheasant.  But, in Chicago, particularly when you’re north of North Ave., it’s important to be local and connected to the neighborhood. We learned that [lesson] and re-launched as Michael Diversey’s. The type of wine list we have now is larger than with Firkin & Pheasant. But our menu expanded, and between Chef Josh Spooner’s and my input, we made a point to attract some real dinner business and emphasize our entrées. It’s paid off because we’re now known for our food. And because of that, it made sense to have a good wine list become part of the dining experience here — a decision that’s allowed our wine sales to jump 45 percent. We made a point with our vendors that we wanted things that were middle-of-the road – good quality and reasonably priced.

VWC: What are some of your personal wine discoveries? Are any of those favorites on  the list, or is there anything you’ve tried that you believe has potential?

JL: A wine on our list that I like is the Gascon Malbec. It’s not super bold, and it’s very enjoyable when the weather is either warm or a bit chilly. But, when you talk about a wine discovery, I was in Michigan recently and had some great local wine. And, since we’re a local-oriented Chicago restaurant, I’d like to [support] more Midwest wineries. I mean, six or seven of our beers are brewed within 50 miles of here.

We went up to Lemon Creek and Roundhouse, and did some of those Michigan wine tours. The idea was to see if they could become available to us; right now, they need a Chicago distributor. So I’ve started talking to some that are more involved with [artisanal] wines. But it doesn’t have to be Michigan wines; they could be from Indiana or Illinois. I’d really like to feature some of those on the menu. Lemon Creek had a nice Cabernet Sauvignon called Pheasant Run, and it was a nice $12 bottle of wine. Michigan has shown it’s capable of great things; not just ice wine, either. When people think wines, they immediately think  California or France, but the local wines could be the next booming trend in the industry.

VWC: What are your personal favorites – a white and a red – that are priced at less  than $15 per bottle?

JL: I’d recommend the Creme de Lys Chardonnay for a white wine to pair with our agave lime salmon. It’s a smooth Chard, with a flavor profile that doesn’t take away from the flavor of the salmon.

For a red – and I know I mentioned it already – but I really like the Gascon Malbec. I’d have it with our bone-in pork chop. It’s not overly heavy, and really works well with pork.

Posted in Full-bodied red wines, Michigan Wines, Southern Hemisphere wines | Leave a comment

Grüner Veltliner: The bloom of Austrian wine

Vines and vineyards are some of the most enduring features of the European  landscape. Whether the climate is the bone-chilling plains of northern Europe,  or the sun-splashed Mediterranean, the pleasantly pastoral vineyard plots are perhaps among the greatest legacies of the continent.

Grapes of European origin, including Cabernet, Chardonnay and Merlot, have deservedly found success in international terroir and marketplaces. But, lesser-known grapes that have flourished for centuries in little burgs have seen their fortunes rise, albeit modestly. The  ascension of Austria’s Grüner Veltliner is exemplary – it has triumphantly fused  time-honored best practices with modern sensibilities.

This tiny alpine nation regards “Grüner” with nearly the same esteem as the edelweiss or the ubiquitous strudel. The grape thrives in fertile valleys and on steep hillsides.

Grüner Veltliner’s success has been achieved against some strong resistance that  sometimes buffets white wines. There’s overly branded, yet insipid Pinot Grigio, along with oaky Chardonnay. These are so widely available that they’re poured  (and spilled) in chintzy hotels and on airplanes – the latter appropriately “cellared” in the galley near the lavatory. Remember, value and cheap mean very different things.

An herbaceous aroma with a crisp, mineral-driven palate is the front-and-center  characteristic of the Austrian varietal – along with a little more body than Sauvignon Blanc. All these characteristics also provide it with more verve and  food-friendliness than all-too-plentiful Pinot Grigio. Want validation? The prestigious Culinary Institute of America calls Grüner Veltliner an “Emerging Wine of Europe.”

And, consider that it is often paired with dishes that include asparagus. This  sprig is often symbolic of an obscene gesture to all wines. However, enjoying it with Austria’s finest is perhaps the ultimate testament to the varietal’s versatility.

“Grüner Veltliner is knocking on the door,” says Eoin O’Donnell, Regional Food & Beverage Director of First Hospitality Group, including Grand Station in suburban Arlington Heights. “Its only handicap might be that it’s difficult to pronounce – not unlike [Greek] Assyrtiko. It can range from a light, simple  aperitif to a complex wine, rivaling a great white burgundy.

“The Kamptal region is a personal favorite,” O’Donnell continues. “Kamptal  Grüners tend to be richer and deeper, with a touch of stone and flint. Weingut Brandl’s 2009 Pfaffenberg is mind blowing, and demonstrates the typical markers of white pepper, lentils, watercress and radish. Its acidity and body make it remarkably easy to pair with food.”

Below are a couple of other suggestions that Value Wine Chicago has enjoyed recently, and are widely available at local retailers  for good prices:

Domaine Wachau Terrassen Federspiel 2009: Harvested from  vineyards adjacent to the storied Danube River, this is a medium-bodied Grüner that is versatile and pairs with seafood and poultry. Aroma is of crisp pears,  and this continues on the palate into a distinctly tart citrus. “And this is  such a first-rate producer,” says Rich Peters of Wine Discount Center. $11.

Birgit Eichinger Hasel 2009: Has the initial crisp minerality  of a Pinot Grigio, but the similarity stops quickly between this and its neighbor to the south. More light-bodied than  the aforementioned Grüners, this would be an ideal aperitif, or serve with small  plates including goat cheese. $14.

Posted in Austrian wines, Obscure white wines | Leave a comment

Cassoulet: Living large with the wines of Languedoc

One of the enduring American imbecilities is a dismissive attitude toward the French – usually, that the latter tend to be dismissive. But wine snobs – they are everywhere, France included – tend to reject the notion that anything not from Bordeaux, Burgundy or Champagne is worth a dime, or even a dingy old franc.

Take it one step further, and introduce a dish made with the humble bean: specifically, Cassoulet. A wine from outside terroir’s glamour gulch, paired with the symbol of subsistence dining? It might make everyone from Napa to Pauillac rise in dismissive fury.

Fortunately, there’s always the parsimonious prose of Value Wine Chicago to ward off such inflamed passions, and embrace the underdogs of wine and food.

In all fairness, the entrée Cassoulet is not just another pot of ersatz legumes for soldiers at the Maginot Line, or Monday’s washing fare in the Old South. It’s a low-and-slow casserole – a delight that originates in the south of France. A few regional burgs consider themselves “Cassoulet Capitals,” including Toulouse, Carcassonne and Castelnaudary.

And, it’s a great time of year to indulge in Cassoulet’s savory warmth, without investing tons of money. Yes, there are the aforementioned beans (haricots blancs), but they aren’t swimming alone. There’s also duck/goose confit, bits of lamb or pancetta and sausages.

Conveniently, Cassoulet’s point of origin resides in Languedoc. Some of the best French wines at a value price point come from Languedoc, too.

“I think [many wine drinkers] have embraced more rustic, intense wines, and southern France is great because it’s so incredibly diverse,” says Rian Hill, General Manager of North Pond Restaurant. “Languedoc wines are so full of garrigue – a sort of low-level scrub brush aspect.”

So, with this diversity and compelling earthiness – plus the cool weather in force around town – it’s an opportunity to warm up to Cassoulet and the great value of the Languedoc. Its ascendant match in wine should be recognized, too. Here are some of Value Wine Chicago‘s favorites:

Château du Donjon Grande Tradition AOC Minervois 2007: A blend of 40 percent Carignan, 35 percent Grenache and 25 percent Syrah, this wine has lots of spice box aroma and a hint of forest floor amid the dark fruit. Blackberry and leather aspects continue on the palate, and the hint of smoke – probably from the Carignan – makes for a great fellow traveler to any Cassoulet that uses a liberal amount of smoked meats. A steal for $15.

M. Chapoutier “Les Vignes de Bila-Haut” Cotes du Roussillon-Villages 2009: A bit on the young side, but well-toned with demonstrable tannins. A medley of dark berries, espresso and black pepper. Not for the timid. Make sure the bean/meat ratio is at least 50/50 – with a slight emphasis on the latter. For the colder nights with a roaring fire. $13.

Château de Mattes-Sabran AOC Corbières 2008: A more fruit-forward blend of Syrah and Grenache. Full and hearty, it’s also quite fresh on the palate. Nice dark fruit has a bit of chocolate on the finish. Find a Cassoulet recipe that’s a little easier on the smoked meats to pair with this one. $14.




Posted in Full-bodied red wines, Mediterranean wines, Obscure red wines | Leave a comment

Gene’s Sausage Shop ‘meats’ need for value wine

Abe Froman, Matthew Broderick’s brief alter ego in Ferris Buehler’s Day Off, was the dubbed “The Sausage King of Chicago.” Ferris and his friends, of course, commandeered Mr. Froman’s table in a fancy restaurant, and thwarted any wine purchases by the sausage maven. (The cavalier teenagers drank soda pop, and paired it with… pancreas.)

Anyways, Abe Froman and other prime-beef-only executive types are often cast as the epitome of elite wine consumers: obsessed with Bordeaux futures, California Cab and 90-plus scores.

But let’s get back to the sausage motif for a moment. Yes, no matter their guise, sausages are often associated with polkas, beer and barrels – and the Beer Barrel Polka. But, a thriving North Side store has found a niche for selling great wine with its ubiquitous encased meats.

Gene’s Sausage Shop, a fixture on Belmont Avenue for years, opened a Lincoln Square location about two years ago. Shortly thereafter, it became the neighborhood’s go-to wine store. Owners Yolanda and Derek Luszcz are not only committed to quality and value in their wine offerings, but are passionate about wine’s lesser-known grapes and regions.

Far from being the neighborhood’s obligatory supplier of sweet Riesling or Schnapps, Gene’s Sausage Shop offers an eclectic, impressive collection of envelope-pushing conversation starters.

Value Wine Chicago sat down with the real sausage royalty of the city (minus the company of Ferris – although there were rumors swirling that he was playing hooky), and had a conversation about the wine industry from the retailer’s perspective:

Value Wine Chicago: Gene’s is known for its deli and European foods. How much has the wine department grown at Gene’s in recent months? What have you noticed in terms of consumer demand?

Yolanda Luszcz: You’re right about our deli, we are mostly known for making more than 40 varieties of ham and smoked sausages here under our own brand name. Then, more recently, we added beer, liquor and wine. About 3-4 months after we opened this location, we expanded our wine section just because the demand was so high.

Initially, we focused on all-European wines, but we’ve seen a rise in sales for South African wines, plus those of New Zealand. We still sell a lot of French wines, like Côtes-du-Rhône and Beaujolais. The Austrian wines, such as Grüner Veltliner, are very good sellers in the summer, to pair with crisp, summertime salads. For reds, the Zweigelt and Blaufrankisch from Austria’s Burgenland are doing quite well, too.

VWC: Tell me about your method of purchasing. Do you taste every wine that goes on display?

YL: Yes, I do the wine buying here, and taste with the salespeople when they come in with their samples. My brother and I both usually try to sit down and do the tastings with them. I also include some of our employees in the tastings when possible, because even if I might not like a particular wine, somebody else might enjoy it. Wine is a very personal thing. I can give my opinion, but I want the others’ input. Say I don’t like it during the tasting, but two others do like it – we might put it on the shelf anyway to see how it moves. One wine I really like, and had to insist on, is Furmint – a white wine from Slovenia.

VWC: What are some of your best-selling wines in the value sector (wines priced under $15)?

YL: La Vieille Ferme Rouge – that one really does well here. Both the Maipe Malbec and Torrontés are big sellers. Also, people really like the Spanish Montepalma, a white blend of Verdejo and Viura. Broke Ass Wine – a red blend from Australia that shows a donkey with a Band-Aid on its rear end on the label – was often a first purchase by our customers as a joke to bring to parties. But, people came back and told us how delicious it was. It sells for $6 per bottle, and on average, we sell five cases of it per week.

VWC: Any personal favorites?

YL: For white wine, my favorite is Albariño. We have the Benito Santos for $10. Traditionally, it’s paired with seafood, but I think it’s versatile enough to enjoy with just about anything. One lighter red I really like, though, is Yealand’s Pinot Noir, from New Zealand. I would pair that with chicken or Beef Bourguignon.

Posted in Austrian wines, Mediterranean wines, Obscure red wines, Obscure white wines, Southern Hemisphere wines, Spanish wines | Leave a comment

Barbecued ribs ‘meat’ their match in value wine

A generation ago, legendary Chicago columnist Mike Royko said, “I make the best ribs anywhere.” He then started the Mike Royko Ribfest to prove it. More than 400 entrants challenged the Chicago-based satirist – who, despite the initial barbecue bluster, did not win his namesake contest.

Royko, the son of a tavern owner, probably did not wash his defeated ribs down with wine. One would assume that the winners losers of this and subsequent ribfests also took another beverage path to celebrate or commiserate.

But the late columnist’s appetite for ribs was matched by more than just a streak of thriftiness. This would have made Royko a great candidate for drinking (but not quaffing) value wines. If he could be perfectly happy with holes in his shoes on a dry day, a value-priced “rib wine” might have graced his chicken-scratched shopping list.

Thankfully, barbecued pork ribs and wine doesn’t present the typical effete wine pairing. Actually, it’s one of the great wine-and-food pairings of all time! So what if the stemware is caked/glazed with barbecue sauce?

Pork is versatile enough as a meat to pair with a number of different wines. With the many rubs and sauces available to adorn a satisfying rack of ribs, the wine search can be quite fun. Even better, good wine choices for any style of barbecued ribs are not overly expensive. A nice chilled bottle of rosé, all the way to a fuller-bodied Bonarda can all work quite nicely, depending on the seasoning, spice or smokiness.

“If I am having a barbecue, especially outside, I enjoy a rosé with ribs,” says Doug Dunlay, co-owner of Smoke Daddy BBQ. “You get bright, expressive fruit that really pairs well with the spices from the barbecue rub and the sauce. Two that I really enjoy are the Chateau Trinquevedel (Grenache) from Tavel, France and Muga (Garnacha Viera and Tempranillo) from Rioja, Spain.

“If I’m having red wine, I will usually stay in Southern France with a medium-bodied Terrebrunne from Bandol ($17), or any blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre from the Southern Rhône Valley,” Dunlay adds.

Here are a couple of other options that could be added to even the most dog-eared, scribbled, Royko-style shopping lists (and good for cold-weather barbecue fanatics):

Feudi di San Marzano Puglia IGT Primitivo 2009: Primitivo is Zinfandel’s Italian cousin, sometimes even called the “matron of Zinfandel.” It’s not as sweet or as concentrated as some of her American descendants. This one is light-to-medium bodied with a nice approachability and balanced fruit, plus a subtle, herbal finish. Great with tangy (not smoky) sauces and rubs – on liberally mopped ribs cooked on an old-fashioned kettle cooker. Sip it beforehand while slowly cooking away, and relax. $13.

Amador Foothill Winery Esola Vineyard Zinfandel 2007: The balance of acidity and fruit make this hard-to-find-but-worth-it Zin a classic barbecue wine. It’s also versatile enough to pivot from smokier sauces to the sweeter, stickier options. Aromas are of black fruit and black pepper, and the palate features black cherry, a bit of mushroom, and a seamless finish. $15.

Posted in Blended wines, Full-bodied red wines, Mediterranean wines, Spanish wines | Leave a comment