Sunday, April 24, 2011

Easter Brunch Festive Dining with Fine Wines

Easter Brunch Festive Dining with Fine Wines

Easter weekend featured festive dining with family with home cooked preparations matched with fine wines. Easter eve featured Mayacamas Napa Valley Mt Veeder Merlot 2006 and Chardonnay 2009 served with lasagna and baked chicken respectively. We tasted and just received these wines from our recent Napa Valley Mt Veeder Appellation Trail Wine Experience visit to the winery. We featured these for sister Jan visiting from Cal accompanied us on the trip but left early and missed the Mayacamas visit and tasting.

 Easter brunch at home after church featured Eggs Benedict with lobster medallions, with hollandaise and asparagus spears. Also featured was a remarkable blueberry french toast bake. The wine accompaniment was Dr. Heidemanns-Bergweiler Bernkasteler Badstube Riesling Spatlese 2006.

Easter evening we tasted Elan Napa Valley Atlas Peak Cabernet Sauvignon 1994 with artisan cheeses and medallions of beef filet with carmelized onions. The Elan tasted remarkably like a vintage Bordeaux with huge floral scents, earthy leather, black fruits, smoke and black cherry with hints of anise and cedar. This wine originally tasted at the winery with producer Richard Elliott-Smith and his lovely wife Linda back during our 1998 Napa Wine Experience (see picture and caption below).

It was true to Richard's Bordeaux roots in flavor, character and apparent age-worthiness as this seventeen year old is not only holding well but is revealing itself more profoundly than earlier tastings. Tasted with artisan cheeses and medallions of beef filet with carmelized onions it went well with the hearty blue cheese and aged cheddar. RM 90 points

Linda & Rick, Richard & Linda, Phil W. and AJ
tasting Elan Cabernet Sauvignon at Monticello Winery in 1998.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Rosemount Estate McLaren Vale Balmoral Syrah 2000

Rosemount Estate McLaren Vale Balmoral Syrah 2000

Label from 1999 vintage.
Some say Shiraz, they say Syrah!

Tasting Note - Dark inky purple color. Medium-full bodied. Aromatic, leather, slightly earthy aroma that gives way to complex flavorful blue fruit and ripe black raspberry, raisin, black cherry, cassis, tar, and tobacco that turns to an aftertaste of smoke, currant and a hint of plum. Over the course of the evening, the wine seemed to age as the berry fruits gave way to the more fig raisin aged feel while the deep aromatics lingered. While I gave it a 92 initially on opening, by the end of the night I gave it a 90. RM 90 points.

The wine went well with smoked almonds and heady blue or gorgonzola cheeses with sliced pear. It would go well with beef or lamb.

We have a horizontal of this wine from 1992 through 2004. Thankfully this wine has avoided that mineral and slight metallic note that some Syrahs take on. It is less extracted and fruit forward than some of the almost over-powering fruit bombs from the region.

During those early years the wine was priced in the $33-36 range, then escalated to $50. After the 2000 vintage the price was fortunately and wisely rolled back to under $30 where it remains. I have seen the 2004 vintage at this price - a good value for this quality wine. I have not seen vintages later than 2004 of this wine in the market.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Yates Family Vineyards Alden Perry Reserve Napa Valley Mt. Veeder Napa Redwoods Estate 2006 Red Wine

 Yates Family Vineyards Alden Perry Reserve Napa Valley Mt. Veeder Napa Redwoods Estate 2006 Red Wine

This wine was one of the discoveries and highlights of our Mt. Veeder Appellation trip and Yates Family Vineyards producer visit last month. The wine is a Bordeaux style blend with 50% Merlot, 42% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 8% Cabernet Franc. The wine is named after Alden Yates, proprietor Michael Yate’s father and Perry Yates, his grandfather, who first purchased the Mt Veeder vineyard property in 1950. Yates produce Bordeaux varietal fruit that is mostly sold to other producers. We've likely had their fruit in wines we get from name producers. They produce small quantities of one to two hundred cases of their Bordeaux varietal wines and of this blend.

We tasted the wine at the winery and purchased a case which just arrived. We opened and drank this with artisan cheeses and filet of beef. The wine was a perfectly complement to the blue cheese and went well with the grilled steak.

Tasting notes -
A bit of acid heat initially that soon wears off to a pleasant smooth drinking wine. Deep garnet color - full bodied bursting with complex layers of rich forward blackberry, ripe sweet black raspberry fruits, tones of cinnamon spice, anise and hints of floral, sweet oak, white pepper and tobacco leaf, finishing with moderate smooth tannins on a rich full finish.
RM 92 points.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Ivy Restaurant - Wheaton, Illinois - Wine & Dine Experience

Ivy Restaurant - Wheaton, Illinois - Wine & Dine Experience

We've been wanting to dine in this location for many years in light of its unique setting in a historic building originally built as a chapel complete with stained glass windows and cathedral ceiling. Several different restaurants have come and gone at this site despite its prime location in the center of trendy downtown Wheaton, Illinois.

There is some irony that the Ivy Restaurant website homepage prominently features Martini Night given that Wheaton was a 'dry' town for so many years. They also offer a half-price wine night on Tuesday's which is always a worthwhile endeavor and practice worth supporting.

While they feature their dinner and dessert menus, I could not find a wine list on their website so I called to inquire about their corkage policy which is $20 per bottle. Alas, having selected a favorite entree, Gorgonzola encrusted New York strip steak, I set upon the wine cellar for a fitting pairing. We also invited friends Mark & Shirley to join us and knowing Shirley loves Cabernet Franc the stage was set for a cab franc stand-off showcasing a vintage favorite aside a premier new discovery offering from our recent Napa Valley wine experience.

My cellar search discovered two bottles remaining from a case of Del Dotto Napa Valley Cabernet Franc 1997, and an as yet untouched case just received and racked last week of Constant Diamond Mountain Vineyard Cabernet Franc 2007.

I advised the server we were doing a wine tasting pairing and inquired further about the featured selections. Per the menu, the steak was accompanied by Ivy House Potatoes. Advised that they were roasted in garlic I opted for the Ivy Whipped Potatoes. Mark ordered a Special du jour Braised Veal Shank served with roasted potatoes, fresh seasonal vegetables. Both ladies ordered the special feature du jour Sea Bass with cous cous.

For starters we ordered the Chorizo Stuffed Dates - wrapped with applewood bacon, baby arugula with smoked tomato sauce, Almond Encrusted Brie, and Prince Edward Island Mussels sauteed with shallots, garlic, bacon, cream, fresh thyme in a white wine broth served with toast points.

Since I was focused on the wine tasting/pairing, I avoided the mussels sauteed in garlic. The brie cheese on the toast points was a nice but uninspiring accompaniment. The others cited the mussels as being less than stellar appearing to be not as fresh as they might be.

The stuffed dates were very tasty and a perfect accompaniment to the wines - especially the bright, vibrant 2007 Constant -so much so we ordered a second round. The dates were very tasty despite the fact the smoked tomato sauce added nothing, in my mind at least.

The anticipation of the wine/entree pairings was heightened. The New York strip arrived smothered with a crusted Gorgonzola which normally I love. Unfortunately, it was so laced with Thyme, there was no sense of the Gorgonzola whatsoever, let alone the beef. I am not a fan of Thyme, which normally I would associate with poultry and Thanksgiving turkey dressing. The affect on the beef was very unappealing. Worse, the whipped potatoes were laced with garlic. By this point any hope of a comparison tasting of the Cabernet Francs was lost.

The Sea Bass was also a bit disappointing, being less than stellar fresh, and the cous cous appeared to look more like risotto. Unfortunately, the dinners were also loaded with salt so as to take away from the tasting experience. We couldn't get enough water.

The saving grace of the evening, beside the stuffed dates, was Mark's entree the braised veal shank which he enjoyed very much.

We finished with the creme brulee which was very good.

The restaurant wine-list was basically American, appeared to predominate with California complete with a range of offerings up to Silver Oak Alexander Valley at $128 and Robert Mondavi Reserve Cabernet at $150 - no vintages listed.  Had it been listed on-line, I would have planned accordingly as there appeared to be one or two selections I would have explored. I appreciate and was grateful for their fair and appropriate corkage policy - indeed, it provided the basis for our visit.

Napa Valley Cabernet Franc tasting -
Constant Diamond Mountain 2007, Del Dotto Napa Valley 1997

Our wine tasting/comparison was outstanding, up to the point of being overpowered by the smothering spice, garlic and salt. The Del Dotto Napa Valley Cabernet Franc 1997 was opaque garnet colored, medium bodied and opened with a earthy leather revealing its age, turning to black cherry, spice and a hint of tobacco (RM 90, WS 91 points). The Constant Diamond Mountain Cabernet Franc 2007 was inky dark purple color, full bodied, dense and concentrated with complex forward, chewy black berry fruits, spice, with long lingering silky tannins (RM 93-94, RP 93-94 points).

We visited Constant Vineyard and Winery just last month during our Diamond Mountain Wine Experience as featured on this blog. Del Dotto are long favorites as were featured during our Napa Valley Wine Experiences several times in 1998, 1999, and 2003 as showcased on our featured producers on

The restaurant is very picturesque with a very nice setting including an outdoor seating area adjoining the ivy colored building - hence the restaurant name. The ambiance upon entry is a bit confusing as the elegance is a bit undermined by the sports-bar feel with the big screens featuring sports in the bar adjacent to the entry.

We were seated promptly, reasonable to expect for a 6:30 seating with reservations. There is a stylish side dining room surrounded by windows and accessed  through french doors off the main dining room. The main dining room has the high cathedral ceilings with a surrounding second floor balcony overlooking the main floor. At the head of the room is a large massive stone fireplace. Seating is tight with three columns of tables down the center and sides of the 'sanctuary', one sidewall having window views to an adjoining courtyard, the opposite side against a bench seat under an alcove looking out into the main hall.

The service was attentive and friendly albeit lacking in detail to properly describe the nature of the food preparations given our stated sensitivity to wine suitable. Moreover, the menu descriptions failed to mention the spices and garlic which might have been acceptable had they not been so predominate (overwhelming). Upon our frank expression of dissatisfaction, the chef did come out and discuss our concerns, defending the preparation and noting its popularity and lack of previous complaints. I can't imagine other diner's finding this preparation acceptable. We offered up our oft-visited Angeli's Restaurant in Naperville as a splendid example of fabulous Gorgonzola feature entree's. We should've also mentioned Angeli's superb mussels offering as well as it is also spectacular and superior to the Ivy Restaurant feature.We were offered the entree be removed from the bill but believe this did not happen given its hard to imagine how the bill could be $250 (plus the $50 tip).

All in all our experience was disappointing and regrettably we will not likely return soon to or recommend Ivy Restaurant in Wheaton.
120 N Hale St
Wheaton, IL 60187-5113
(630) 665-2489

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Restaurant Tallent - Bloomington, Indiana - Wine and Dining Experience

Restaurant Tallent - Bloomington, Indiana

By far the standard bearer for fine dining in Bloomington, local natives and namesakes, David and Kristen Tallent take exquisite cuisine to a level one expects to find in finer restaurant mecca's New York or Chicago. Not surprising, since they studied at the C.I.A. - Culinary Institute of America in New York, then learned and refined their craft at fine restaurants there. At the C.I.A., David became learned in the Slow Food Movement using local, seasonal and organic ingredients.

David and Kristen initially opened Restaurant Tallent in 2003, then moved to the current location in 2007. David oversees the kitchen operations and develops the menu creations, while Kristen overseas the wine list, dessert menu and serves as pastry chef as well as General Manager. 

The menu creations are Indiana Hoosier cuisine with a sophisticated cosmopolitan flair. I tried the Indiana Strip Steak with Hash Brown Casserole, Asparagus, served in a Wild Mushroom Bordelaise. We also tried the seafood entree - the Alaskan Halibut with Creamed Cabbage & Ramps, Sunchokes, Corned Beef, and Maple Mustard Gastrique, and the Herbed Gnocchi with Spring Vegetables, Preserved Lemon & Pistachio Pesto. All the entrees were creative and superb. For starter we tried the Rye Whiskey Foie Gras Torchon with Rhubarb Jam, Bourbon Sherry Caviar and Cornmeal Waffle. The Foie Gras was exquisite, undone slightly by the overtly tangy sour Caviar and the bland underwhelming cornmeal waffle. Toast points would have better suited the elegance of the Foie Gras.

I called ahead early in the week after making dining reservations, to arrange corkage arrangements for a special vintage bottle selection from our cellar befitting a very special dining occasion. We were advised this is not allowed and then directed to the wine list selections. Alas, in choosing our entree and wine pairing, our wine selection had been removed from the wine list. Ironically, as is my custom before ordering, and then again when I discovered our wine choice was no longer offered, I had inquired whether there were any wine selections not shown on the winelist. I was admonished that the wine list was complete, and representative of all available selections. Only on insisting to investigate the availability of the particular wine we had chosen from the published on-line winelist were we presented with our original selection choice - albeit a different vintage, which had been removed from the published list, and which remains still on the on-line feature. Moreover, while having been advised ahead of time in our phone inquiry to refer to the winelist, and then advised that the winelist was indeed up-to-date and correct, our second selection from the published list presented at the table, supposedly updated just the day before, was not available. Clearly, their care and attention to detail in the precision and accuracy and presentation of both the on-line list and the published list provided at the table is lacking, overshadowed only by their disregard and lack of respect for the value a client may place on the import of selecting a favored and appropriate matching wine to accompany their dinner selection. Some diners, certainly wine geeks or aficionados, consider the wine experience an integral and important part of the dining experience. Expecting relative accuracy is not a long call considering the number of red wines offered numbers about thirty.

This unsettling discourse only set to magnify other service shortcomings of the evening - an entree served less than hot, empty water glasses, and in-attentive servers failing to check on progress or satisfaction of the meal. Never-the-less, the quality and imagination of the food selections and preparations were wonderful and warrant a visit, or a return trip.

Wines tasted:

Twomey Napa Valley Merlot 2006
Full bodied - dark inky ruby color -  fruit flavors of blackberry and black cherry, layer of spice and cedar with a hint of tobacco and dark chocolate on a finely polished tannin finish. RM 91 points.
Grapes sourced from Soda Canyon Ranch vineyards in southeast Napa Valley.
94% Merlot, 6% Cabernet Franc
Shown - 2004 vintage bottle.

Second wine selection choice, listed on offer but not available - Pahlmayer Napa Valley Red Wine 2006.

Raymond Sommelier Selection California Cabernet Sauvignon 2007
(Available by the glass)
Medium-full bodied, black cherry and brambleberry fruits with a layer of spice, tobacco, herb and hint of anise on a moderate tannin finish. RM 88 points.
Grapes sourced - 64% Napa County 27% Sonoma County 9% Lake County 
81% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Merlot, 4% Cabernet Franc

Restaurant Tallent were supporters of the Big Red Wine Fest a charity wine tasting to support Boys and Girls Clubs of Bloomington.

Restaurant Tallent
208 North Walnut Bloomington IN 47404
Phone - 812-330-9801

Friday, April 1, 2011

Hoosier Heartland Wine & Dine - B-Town Weekend Getaway

Hoosier Heartland Wine & Dine - B-Town Weekend Getaway 

A visit to Big Ten 'B-Town', Bloomington, Indiana. Weekend getaway to visit son Alec, IU Kelly B-school student, and to celebrate his (21st!) birthday .

Le Petit Cafe - Casual cultural dining - authentic Provencal Country French dining experience - food, ambiance, due to and brought by French hosts. Dinner with L, Erin & Lucy, Alec and buddies Zach and Jordan.

Selections are posted on a white board - a couple of starter selections - pate, cheese credite, entrees - beef, fish, chicken or pork. sides are family style - a starch and a veggie and a medley of deserts.

Wines are fundamentally simple, French - white or red, tastefully and creatively selected to accompany the dinner selections. The husband wife team share duties of cooking and serving.

Service is focused, genuine, attentive, and sincere.   

Louis Latour Morgon Les Charmes Beaune Cote-d-Or 1999

The suggested selection served with our meal. Pleasant easy drinking - medium light bodied - garnet color - black cherry fruits, dusty rose, hint of tobacco on a moderate, short tannin finish. A good value in a Pinot Noir wine.  

Nice complement to cheese, salad and the beef entries.

RM 88 points.

Viader Napa Valley Proprietary Red 1990

Alec's birth-year wine to celebrate his 21st birthday weekend. This wine was pre-arranged to be available for our special occasion dinner.

Very Bordeaux like - subdued black berry fruit, floral, leather, tobacco and a hint of spice layer on a moderate soft tannin finish.  Cabernet Sauvignon 68%, Cabernet Franc 32%.
RM 91 points.

Nice complement to the beef entries, chocolate deserts. 

The spectacular Viader Howell Mountain Estate was featured during our Viader Napa Valley Wine Experience 2008.

Delia Viader was featured at a Binny's an evening with Delia Viader vertical wine tasting in Lakeview, Chicago. 

More to come ...