Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Leña Brava Restaurant Chicago

Leña Brava Restaurant Chicago

We held a celebration dinner recognizing our team that contributed to the successful business transaction resulting in the sale of our company. In attendance were the 'deal' team from our company and our corporate finance investment banking advisors.

The dinner was held at Leña Brava Restaurant in the vibrant Randolph Street Restaurant Row in Chicago’s West Loop neighborhood. 

The recent renaissance has transformed the historic Fulton market meat packing and food processing and distribution area into one of the country's most vibrant commercial centers with the development of corporate headquarters, tech industry, hotels, bars, restaurants, and retail that include McDonald's world headquarters, Google, Mondelez, Herman Miller and more.

Leña Brava was created to celebrate classic Mexican dishes cooked over hardwood fire featuring seafood-heavy cuisine of Mexico’s Baja coast, with an all ”ferocious firewood” kitchen. Interesting too, given my focus on wine in these pages, is the feature of Mexican wines on their winelist, which I admit, I had never experienced before. 

We were seated in a private dining room with views of the cityscape, and dinner featured a bespoke menu for the evening.  Prior to dinner was an endless procession of delectable hors d'oeuvres and specialty drinks.

Our wine pairings for the evening including a White and a Red from the limited, focused winelist, from producer Casa Magoni, sourced from Valle de Guadalupe, on the Baja Peninsula, (B.C. - Baja California), Mexico. 

Both wines exceeded my expectations, neither the selection of varietals nor their profiles being what one would expect coming from what I would consider a hot climate. Apparently, the coastal effects, and they say the elevation, temper the terroir to produce such wines.  

The Valle de Guadalupe (Guadalupe Valley) is an area of Ensenada Municipality, Baja California, Mexico that is an increasingly popular tourist destination for wine and Baja Med cuisine. It is located 20 kilometres (12 mi) north of the City of Ensenada and 113 kilometres (70 mi) southeast of the border crossing from San Diego to Tijuana.

The Valle de Guadalupe's elevation and microclimate make it ideal for growing Vitis vinifera, cultivated grapes, suited for winemaking. As of 2018, there were over 100 wineries along the Valle's Ruta del Vino (Wine Route). Collectively, they account for 70% of all Mexico's wines.

The varieties of grapes grown to produce red wine in the Baja California region are Cabernet Sauvignon, Ruby Cabernet, Zinfandel Grenache and Mission. The grapes for white wines are Chenin Blanc, Palomino, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Saint Emilion and Malaga. 

The wines were appropriate pairings to complement the beef, cheese, and seafood selections. 

Our host arranged for a prepared menu flight of three courses with two selections each. 

The starter course consisted of Charred Queso Fresco - Garlicky green mojo, Picoline olives, parsley and lime served with coal-fired pan de campo.

The other starter course may have been the best selection of the entire evening, incredible, delicious, artfully prepared Wood-Fired Oysters - east coast oysters, preserved lemon-anchovy butter and chipotle. They were as delectable and unique as they were picturesque.

The two main courses were a fish and a beef dish - Wild Alaskan Black Cod marinated in red chile, roasted chayote, fiery arbol salsa and Wood-oven braised beef short ribs, silky tamal pudding, guajillo reduction, parsley & white onion salad.

The two main dishes were accompanied by two side dishes: Mexican Rice and Fingerling Potatoes.

The two wines were from the same producer, Casa Magoni - both from the same region, Valle de Guadalupe in Baja, California, Mexico.

Winemaker/producer Camillo Magoni, born in Valtellina, Italy, Magoni moved to Baja California in 1965, after studying viticulture and enology in Alba. He worked for almost fifty years at regional producer L.A. Cetto winery, another label offered on the Leña Brava limited, focused wine list.

Magoni is credited for helping establish the transformation of Baja California’s wine industry. Starting in the 1960s, he bought vineyards and experimented with many varieties, growing over a hundred of them seeking the right varietal best suited for the terroir of the area - soil, climate, exposure - all the elements that contribute to the character and profile of the sense of place and its impact on the resulting wines. He experimented with Chardonnay, Fiano, Viognier, Arneis, Moschofilero, Assyrtiko, Montepulciano, Aglianico, Grenache, Syrah, and Cabernet Sauvignon, many of them field blends. 

Over the years, he sold his grapes to established wineries, and helped them move away from high alcohol reds while developing white wines. In 2012, faced with a surplus of grapes, he decided to start making his own wine. 

Like his experimentation in grapes, he also explored crafting techniques best suited for the local wines, trying new things, making many unique cuvées and trial batches. He introduced his Casa Magoni wines in 2016, and has become recognized as one of the iconic personalities of Baja California viticulture and signature wines.

Production of Casa Magoni has grown to total production approaching 21,000 cases per year.

Casa Magoni, Manaz, Vino Blanco, (Viognier, Fiano), Valle de Guadalupe, B.C., Mexico 2021

This white blend is 80% Viognier and 20% Fiano sourced from the “Campo Manaz” vineyard, on the east side of Guadalupe Valley, which lends the wine its name.

One cellartracker writes "A very nice blend combining soft, peachy fruit from Viognier with the more earthy, nutty, tart characteristics of Fiano."

Winemaker's notes: "A pale and luminous yellow with a light green hue. Fresh and elegant with white flower and mellow aromas. Citric notes like lime and grapefruit mixed with tropical fruits like pineapple and apricot are perceived. Fresh in mouth. Citric and floral notes are highlighted. Nice and firm acidity with a long and elegant finish."

Light grayish straw colored, medium light bodied, crisp, bright acidity with slightly tart stone fruits, mineral and notes of tangy citrus and tropical fruits.  

RM 87 points

 And for the red ....

Casa Magoni, Sangiovese/Cabernet, Valle de Guadalupe, B.C., Mexico 2021 

This is an imaginative unique blend of Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon, also sourced totally from the Valle de Guadalupe, Baja, México.  

Winemaker's Tasting Notes: "A blend of Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon. These two varieties have been grown in the Guadalupe Valley for decades, as the climate and terroir is well-suited to them. Each variety is harvested and fermented separately. The vinification is done in stainless steel tanks to preserve the freshness of the fruit. The wine is bottled before the following harvest season.'

"Aromas of cherries and red raspberries, with black fruits notes in the background. Well-integrated tannins, more cherry and plum, and a hint of black tea on the finish. 13% alcohol."

Wine pundit Ian Blackburn who reviews Mexican wines awarded this release 90 Points. He wrote, "Freshness, purity and drinkability are expressed wonderfully in this value option. Color 13/15 (soft and pretty), Aroma 22/25 (fresh fruit, nice varietal expression), Body 22/25 (satisfying and indulgent), Overall 33/35 = 90 points."

Ruby colored, medium plus bodied, bright expressive dark berry and plum fruits with spice, tobacco and cedar sprites with tangy acidity and moderate tannins on a lingering finish. 

RM 88 points.

The closing dessert course was Coconut Tres Leches Cake - Sponge cake soaked in coconut milk with toasted coconut and strawberry compote. 

Like all the dishes, this exceeded my expectations and was better than could be imagined, or discerned from the description which did not do it justice. 

Thanks to our hosts, and the Leña Brava team for a delightful evening and delectable dinner.