Saturday, October 7, 2023

The James Geneva features wine friendly menu and fine wines

The James Restaurant Geneva (IL) features wine friendly menu and fine wine selection

Saturday afternoon lunch - a beautiful picture perfect Midwestern autumn day - we drove out to Geneva on the Fox River and dined at The James Restaurant, recently reopened under new ownership, formerly Fiore's which we've visited and featured previously in these pages.  

The James new restaurant and cocktail lounge, features a broad menu offering steaks from prime purveyor Allen Brothers, seafood and other assorted entrees and small plates ... and a Wine Spectator Award winning winelist, opened in May at 317 S. Third St., Geneva, the former location of Fiora’s, which closed in January.

The James is the creation of Geneva residents Chris and Gretchen Hupke who are leasing the space. Along with Gretchen's brother, Todd McWethy, they also own and operate McWethy’s Tavern at the Mistwood Golf Course in Romeoville, and McWethy’s Sports Bar in Bolingbrook. The James is partly named for their late father, James (Jim) McWethy, and partly too, for James Herrington, Geneva’s first settler, namesake to the nearby (James) Herrington Inn & Spa which we have also featured in these pages

The James occupies the quaint historic building on trendy bustling Third Street, Geneva, with a collection of stylishly decorated multi-colored dining rooms, the brightly lit sun-porch overlooking the patio outdoor seating area, a classic vintage library bar with pressed- tin-ceiling and marble top tables, and the wine cellar dining room on the lower level which is an operating wine cellar and has seating for up to 20 for wine themed special dinners. 

We were able to secure a table on the sun-drenched sun porch room, whose floor-to-ceiling glass walls overlook the 140-seat outdoor patio. 

The James' imaginative varied menu features creations from chef Steven Blackburn who previously headed up a sushi bar in West Hollywood. The meat menu selections offer beef sourced from premier purveyor Allen Brothers in Chicago, from an eight-ounce bavette and filet mignon to a hearty 24-ounce porterhouse, classic chicken Vesuvio, pork schnitzel, and a 16-ounce pork chop. The entree and small plate selections offer seafood selections such as grilled swordfish, Japanese style salmon sashimi, and shrimp shakshuka.

We ordered a medley from the small plates menu, the Lobster Agnolotti, the Coffee Charred Steak along with the Lobster Bisque and Apple and Pear Salad. 

Apple and Pear Salad - green apple, red pear, candied pecans, mixed greens with bleu cheese vinaigrette
Crab Bisque with Chive
Lobster Agnolotti - lobster tail, saffron cream sauce, brown butter
Coffee Charred Steak - Allen Brothers, Chicago skewered Prime beef, plum BBQ sauce, pea shoot

Everything was wonderful - the bisque was especially delectable and the Charred Steak skewers with the plum BBQ sauce was spectacular, and a wonderful pairing with the red wine (s) (despite having note of spice heat, which normally I would degrade for offsetting the pallet and discrimination for the wine).

A draw for us was the James' imaginative and carefully selected wine list with 90 wines by the bottle, wines by the glass, and a collection of half bottles. Their wine list won a Wine Spectator Award of Excellence for 2023.

For our wine accompaniment to our lunch we ordered a half bottle of the Vieux Telegraph Chateauneuf-du-Pape. We know this producer and wine well having visited the Chateau and Estate on a couple occasions.  

Our visit to the Vieux Télégraphe estate and meeting owner/winemaker Daniel Brunier (left) was a highlight of our Rhone Valley Wine Experience in 2019.

Notably, while the wine list features Domaine du Vieux 'Telegraph' Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Rhone (their quotation emphasis, not mine). They actually served Domaine du Vieux Telegraph, 'Telegramme', Chateauneuf-du-Pape. This is their 'second' wine, sourced from younger vines and is generally about half the price of the flagship grand cru. 

We brought this to our server's attention and eventually to the proprietor/owner Chris Hupke (below). Upon researching this further, he realized that while they ordered the flagship Vieux Telegraph label, they actually received from the distributor the Telegramme label, which they were subsequently serving. They hadn't caught this difference until I brought it to their attention.

This sparked an extensive in-depth friendly and convival conversation with Chris about our shared interests and experiences in fine wines, culminating in a cellar tour and visit to the wine room downstairs. 

Our lively discussion about wine finds and preferences and restaurant wine lists covered our shared love of Howell Mountain Cabernet's and lead to Bordeaux varietal selections from Washington State.

In recompense for the winelist switch/snafu and shortcoming in our red wine selection, Chris brought out a glass of a Washington State Red Mountain Cabernet from Walls Vineyard and Winery.

Our original selection:

Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe Châteauneuf-du-Pape Télégramme 2018 

Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe 'Telegramme', Chateauneuf-du-Pape Rhone 2018

As stated, we visited Vieux Télégraphe during our trip to Châteauneuf-du-Pape in the Southern Rhone River Valley back in 1998 and again in 2019. We hold Vieux Télégraphe wines dating back three decades to the early 1980's. 

Domaine du Vieux Télégraphe has been run by the Brunier family for five generations dating back to 1891. The estate’s vineyards average 60 years of age on the Plateau of La Crau, a site known for growing Châteauneuf-du-Pape grape varietals.

The estate is named for the telegraph towers that sat on the site dating back to the early visual signal towers that were invented and deployed as far back as 1792. Lines of relay towers were built within line-of-sight of each other at distances of 5–20 miles. Tower operators would watch adjacent towers through a spyglass for signals produced by mechanical shutter arms and would pass the message on to the next tower. These early systems were faster and less expensive than horse drawn riders. These lines were a precursor of the electrical telegraph which would replace them half a century later.

The estate wines are known for their distinctive terroir signature of predominant minerality from filtering through the thick layer of large pebbles left behind when the Alpine glaciers melted, long before the Rhône Valley formed.

Winemaker (s): Frédéric & Daniel Brunier 

The blend for this release is 80% Grenache, 10% Syrah, 6% Mourvèdre and 4% Cinsault. 

Winemaker's Tasting Notes: Châteauneuf-du-Pape seriously dominated by Grenache, which confers very singular suppleness and roundness. Best savored young.

This is the second wine of Vieux Telegraphe. Mainly Grenache with Syrah, Mourvedre and Cinsault from mostly young vines but it does include grapes from 45 year old vines at Château La Roquette.

This release was awarded 92-93 points by James Suckling and 90-92 points by Wine Advocate.

Dark Ruby colored, medium-full bodied, classic brambly red and black raspberry and plum fruits with notes of gariggue, floral and spice from the Grenache, with hints of pepper on the moderate long, rich, ripe tannin finish.

RM 91 points.

Wall Vineyards 'Curiositas' Red Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon 2018

Chris served us a glass of this big full bodied, fruit forward, flavorful Cabernet. We happen to know this brand and label and have a case of other vintages in our cellar collection.

Ironically, or notably, we also knew this producer and label well, having visited the winery in Walla Walla during our Walla Walla Wine Experience back in 2018, where we discovered this label and acquired a case of it from the 2015 vintage. 

Our visit the winery was one of the highlights of that appellation visit. It was great fun to share, and educate our host about this label, the brand and its background and history of the producer, the estate and the vineyards.

Walls Curiositas Red Mountain Cabernet

Walls Winery Curiositas Columbia Valley Red Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon 2018

With Mike Martin, Owner Walls Vineyards
We discovered and acquired this wine during our visit to the producer during our recent Walla Walla Wine Experience. It was our favorite of the portfolio of wines tasted with Mike Martin, owner/producer Walls Vineyards and Winery.

This is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon from the Red Mountain AVA in central Washington.

As I wrote in an earlier blogpost almost four years ago to the day, this was my favorite of the flight that we tasted at the winery. Of course I tend to favor Bordeaux varietals and found this especially appealing.

The fruit for this is sourced from the Obelisco Vineyard on the higher slopes of the Red Mountain AVA. The vines get increased exposure to the sun and are planted in higher density to further stress the grapes. The result is a wine of great complexity but one that is elegant and lush, yet subtle with tones the winemaker describes as possessing 'freshness that evokes a Margaux-styled fragrant' Cabernet'.

From our Walls Winery producer visit report when we tasted and acquired the 2015 vintage release.

The Walls Curiositas Red Mountain Cabernet 2015

2015 Curiositas is an elegant, complex and lush, yet subtle, wine. Its tone of freshness evokes a Margaux-styled fragrant Cabernet Sauvignon.

Sourced from the Obelisco Vineyard, high in the Red Mountain AVA where the vines get full exposure to all the elements.

“It is beautifully situated, with more vines doing less work, and planted with higher density,” says winemaker Ali. “It lends itself to complexity so how could we not take advantage of that?”

Chris served us the 2018 release of this label. It was bigger, more vibrant and expressive than the 2015 vintage we hold in our cellar that we are accustomed to.

Bright purple garnet colored, it was medium-full bodied with a firm gripping backbone structure with glycerine legs clinging to the glass, the polished elegant tannins were smooth and silky that it made for enticing casual sipping - bright red and black fruits accented by bright expressive notes of menthol, spice and creme de cassis, with notes of tobacco leaf and subtle vanilla and oak. 
Jeb Dunnuck gave this 97 points and like Robert Parker's Wine Advocate talks about this label's 'well-integrated tannins, solid grip, coupled with a swath of fresh acidity that delivers muscular structure' but then talks about it being 'light footed through the long finish'.

RM 93 points.

Jeb Dunnuck, Robert Parker's Wine Advocate gave this  “Editor’s Choice" and rated it "Extraordinary (95-100 pts.) "

331 Cases were produced.
We enjoyed The James so much we've already signed up for their upcoming winemaker producer dinner next week.


James Photo of the Bar