Affordable Wines for your Weekend from Rías Baixas and Tuscany

redwhitewine1The weekend is upon us and you may have your favorite, expensive bottle ready to open.  But there is more than enough space on the wine bar to open a few bottles of wine under or around $20.  It’s always fun for me to taste then suggest wines that are at or around that affordable price range.  I hope you find the wines reviewed below interesting enough to purchase and pair with a Friday night dinner at home, with friends who drop by unexpectedly, a Sunday supper, or with a good book waiting for you on the back porch.

As the fall season moves forward many wine lovers switch from light white wines to richer reds. However, a crisp, refreshing white wine such as the Spain’s Terras Gaudo O Rosal 2013 has its place when paired with indigenous cheeses, nuts, light poultry dishes, or seafood.  Pale gold with a hint of green, this blend of 70% Albarino, 20% Loureira, and 10% Caino Bianco grapes from Rías Baixas D.O. burst with aromas of beeswax, stone fruits, orange peel, and honeysuckle.  On the palate, you’ll savor tastes of lemons, limes, more stone fruits, minerality, and honey.  Bone dry with high acidity, the balance was what kept me pouring! With a creamy finish this wine was perfect paired with my autumn dinner of salmon, savory herbs and fresh vegetables baked in parchment. Cost is $24.

The wind is blowing, the leaves are scattering along the sidewalk, you want to shroud yourself in your favorite sweater, and…pour yourself a glass of red wine!  It’s time for some smooth sips of Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG 2010 from Banfi in Tuscany. Produced in the Chianti Classico zone between Florence and Sienna this elegant choice is mostly from Sangiovese grapes with traces of Cabernet and Canaiolo Nero.  I found rich aromas of deep red and purple fruits and florals and anticipated the first taste.  On the palate, juicy red fruits, white pepper, ripe black cherries, and a hint of spice led to a lingering finish.  Enjoy this well balanced wine with integrated tannins and mouthwatering acidity with your favorite pizza or a grilled cheese of your own creation!  Cost is around $18.


Cheers to another glorious fall weekend…and wine! ~ Cindy






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The Wine Lover Next Door: Danielle Gerke – This Cali Girl Loves Her Zin

wineloverdanielleDanielle Gerke moved into our neighborhood two years ago.  Our paths cross at parties and bunco nights as well as a quick wave and “hi” as she’s walking the dog and I’m dashing somewhere in the car.  She is one busy lady with a young son, a thriving business, and now a new venture in her home state of California.  But she always finds time to relax with a nice glass of wine.  At a recent gathering, our conversation turned to our favorite wines and Danielle couldn’t wait to share her love of Zinfandel and a penchant for discovering new red varieties.  Naturally, I asked her to be my next “Wine Lover Next Door” and she was excited to share her wine story with you.  Read on…

Danielle, tell the readers a little about yourself.

Danielle: I currently live in Wheaton, Illinois. I grew up in a small town in the Central Valley in California and I really miss California, especially in the winter! I am never happier than when I’m at the beach. I’m always doing something new, I’m an entrepreneur at heart. Currently I own a skincare business and I’m opening a Blow Dry Bar in California with my sister. It’s all very exciting.  I just love business and new ventures! 

Why do you love wine?

Danielle: I love the richness and complexities of wine. A new bottle is a whole new experience. There’s something kind of magical about finding a new wine that you love. 

When did you start enjoying wine?

Danielle: I don’t really remember when I started enjoying wine, it seems like I’ve always loved it but I know that’s not true. I remember at first for years, I would only drink white wine. I didn’t like red, but as I’ve gotten more fond of wine, I’m a convert.  Only red for me now! 

What wines are your favorites?

Danielle: I really like a big, spicy, slightly jammy Zinfandel – probably my favorite. But I like a lot of other reds too. I also am really happy with some of the blends. One of my favorites is a wine called Babic, from Croatia.  I’m not even sure what kind of wine it is! 

Do you have a particular wine region you love?

Danielle: I am from California and love California wine. I lived on the Central Coast for years and it’s one of my favorite places in the world. I love the way wines from that region taste, but I think it’s a little nostalgia too. Once, I found a wine in California called Zinzilla.  It had a crazy label and I wouldn’t have looked twice at it, but the person in the wine aisle said I’d like it and since it was $9 I bought it. I loved it so much that I ordered a case from California when I got home! 

When you go out, what do you choose?

Danielle: Since Zin is my favorite, I usually look for the Zin on the wine list. A lot of places only have one or two to choose from. We went to a place in Omaha called The Zin Room and they had a whole menu of only Zinfandel.  It was so much fun! 

With whom and how often do you drink wine?

Danielle: I have a couple of friends I drink wine with and my cousin loves it too. She and I have been in business together for years and we used to travel a lot for work and had a lot of fun drinking wine together. My husband likes wine too, so we will share a bottle with dinner sometimes.  I drink wine a couple of nights a week usually. 

Do you have a favorite wine and food pairing?

Danielle: I think we have some really great restaurants in Wheaton where I love to drink wine. My favorite is Adelle’s. I also love to drink wine at Suzette’s which is where I fell in love with Babic. I love Pizzeria NEO in Naperville. They have a wine that’s only available by the bottle from South Africa that I love, The Chocolate Block. I love when I find someone to share it with. I try to drink wine with all kinds of food because I really like to drink wine at a restaurant. Some of my pairings are more successful than others. I’ve been known to have wine with popcorn on more than one occasion! 

How do you decide to purchase a type of wine?

Danielle: I have some trusted sources! My stepfather is a wine lover, so I get some really good wines when I visit. I love to shop at Cabernet & Co. in Glen Ellyn.  They are great at helping me pick wines I like. A few times a year they have a huge wine tasting event called (I think) Wine Thing when they open 100 bottles of wine! I went one year and picked two cases of wine that I loved! I took really good notes, (they were good at the beginning of the event, not so great at the end) and I found a lot of wines that way.  It was really fun opening the bottles because I really enjoyed each one. 

How much do you typically spend on wine?

Danielle: I love to find a great bottle around $10 but more common is $15-20.

How often do you purchase wine?

Danielle: I like to buy 6 or more at a time so I don’t need to run out and buy more. I hate to be without wine!

Where do you purchase wine?

Danielle: I usually purchase wine at my favorite wine shop, Cabernet & Co. I do shop at grocery stores as well for convenience. I’ve been tempted to try an online source, but haven’t yet.

Are there any wines you don’t like? 

Danielle: I’m not a fan of whites.  I do think that maybe I’m missing out sometimes though.  

How knowledgeable do you think you are about wine?

Danielle: I don’t really know that much about wine. I know what I like, but I’d say I’m not that knowledgeable in general about wine. 

Do you take steps to learn more?  If so, how?

Danielle: Wine tastings are a great place for me to learn about wine. That’s really where I learned what I like. 

Do you have any funny stories about your wine experiences?

Danielle: We had a party here and everyone was drinking wine.  When they left their glasses unattended for even a minute, my dog, Lola would take a couple of sips.  She’s like a ninja and most people didn’t know she had been drinking out of their glass until we saw her doing it!

Thanks, Danielle, for sharing your wine journey!  Now, open a delicious glass of Zinfandel and relax!!

Cheers~ Cindy




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It’s a Wine Quiz!

I know you love quizzes to test your *wine* knowledge!  Every two or three months, I post a wine quiz to see if you know your stuff and actually remember what you read while checking out my site. This quiz is in a multiple choice format covering posts written from late July through early October 2014.  Just scroll down to the end of the page to find out if your response is correct.  And for more info, the number of the question is linked to the entire article written about the answer!

Have fun! ~ Cindy



1.  What varietals are grown in the Finger Lakes AVA?

a.  Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot     b.  Riesling and Gewurtztraminer     c.  Sangiovese and Nero d’Avola     d.  Malvasia Bianca and Viognier

2.  Adelsheim Vineyard is located in which state?

a.  California     b.  Virginia     c.  Oregon     d.  Michigan

3.  My brunch recipe for Mexican Egg Casserole paired beautifully with which wine?

a.  Monastrell     b.  Pinotage     c.  Semillon     d.  Prosecco

4.  Malagousia is a grape grown in which country?

a.  Greece     b.  New Zealand     d.  South Africa     e.  Australia

5.  Pedro Ximenez is grown in which country?

a.  France     b.  Chile     c.  Croatia     d.  Hungary

6.  The town of Cambria is closest to which California wine region?

a.  Lodi     b.  Santa Barbara     c.  Sonoma     d.  Paso Robles

7.  Cecchi Chianti Classico is a tasty pairing with which dish?

a.  vegetable lasagna     b.  warm apple crisp     c.  Greek shrimp     d.  coq au vin

8.  Where in New Zealand does Pinot Noir reign (in my humble opinion)?

a.  Marlborough     b.  Central Otago     c.  Hawke’s Bay     d.  Auckland

9.  Riverbench Winery in the Santa Maria Valley is my favorite producer for what type of wine?

a.  Sauvignon Blanc     b. Rose of Monastrell     c.  Sparkling     d.  Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre blend

10.  Which should you do when at a wine tasting?

a.  Wear white     b.  Hold your glass at the stem     c.  Stay at the tasting table for a long time     d.  Drink from the spit bucket



1.b     2c     3d     4a     5b     6d     7a     8b     9c     10b


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An Angel Flight from Montes Wines

Perhaps you have heard of Chile’s Montes Wines, a portfolio of wines garnering awards and accolades from around the world. Not only has Montes produced wines of premium quality (think Montes Alpha or Alpha M), they have set the standard for other Chilean producers with their Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Carmenere, and more.  Their brands include Outer Limits with estates in Zapallar, Apalta, and Itata and Kaiken Premium Wines started in 2002 in Mendoza, Argentina.

Montes has now ventured into some of the best wine regions in California. Recently, I was sent samples of 2011 StarAngel Pinot Noir, 2008 StarAngel Red Wine, and Napa Angel Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 for tasting and review.  This flight of Angels was indeed enjoyable and after a several sips, quite inspirational.

Aurelio Montes, a reknown winemaker, world traveler, and “creator of superb Cabernet Sauvignon in all wine regions of Chile, Bordeaux, and Mendoza” brought his energy and passion to Napa Valley where, in 2006, he searched for the best grapes in three regions: Yountville, Coombsville, and Oak Knoll. The Napa Angel 2008 is Cabernet Sauvignon based.  Aromas of spice, red jammy fruit, blackberries, blueberries, and plums were thick and luscious. On the palate, chewy tannins, plenty of acidity, fresh fruit flavors, raspberries, leather, and toast contributed to a balanced and round mouthfeel with spice on the rich finish. Just be sure to decant for about an hour prior to tasting for optimal enjoyment.  Paired with roast chicken and ratatouille the Cabernet was just wonderful.  Cost is $56.

Equally attracted to the Paso Robles AVA where Rhone varietals shine, Montes brought his talents to the region with the StarAngel brand.  Its 2008 StarAngel Red Wine is a blend of 94% Syrah, 2% Grenache, and 2% Mourvedre. After decanting for up to an hour, I loved the intense red fruits, black cherries, exotic spice, and oak aromas. More dark, juicy fruits, cedar, spice, oak, and earth with integrated tannins were smooth and balanced in this dry Rhone blend.  The long finish was incredibly satisfying as was the price of $25.

The La Encantada and John Sebastiano vineyards in the Santa Rita Hills are the locations for grapes sourced for the StarAngel Pinot Noir 2011. Launched in April 2014, this Pinot Noir with cherries, raspberries, and subtle spice notes were bright and lively in the glass. Nicely woven tannins, mouthwatering acidity, spice, oak, and tastes of blueberries, plums, and pomegranates led to an elegant finish. I find Pinot Noirs one of the most food friendly varietals and this was another lovely example.  Cost is $35.


“Angels have always been our inspiration, hence the name. Angels have always guided us and, we are convinced, contribute to bring our wines to your table, for your enjoyment.” –  2008 StarAngel Red Wine (back label)

Cheers to this flight of Angels from Montes! ~ Cindy

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Chicago Gourmet 2014 – A Wine and Food Lover’s Destination

067Chicago may be known as the City of Big Shoulders but it has also become familiar to many for Chicago Gourmet, a celebration of fabulous food, wine, spirits, and beer which was held the weekend of September 26-28, its seventh year. Since 2013 I have been looking forward to another festivus of live cooking demonstrations, seminars, food and wine tastings, and more. This year’s Chicago Gourmet didn’t disappoint…stunningly gorgeous weather, world reknown chefs, mixologists, and sommeliers, and an array of outstanding libations were the ingredients for another successful event. Produced by the Illinois Restaurant Association and sponsored by Bon Appétit magazine, thousands of foodies and wine lovers from across the nation converged in beautiful Millennium Park.

Upon my arrival, I joined the opening ceremonies press conference on the Bon Appétit Main Stage and was poured a glass of perfectly chilled Veuve Cliquot. But of course! I savored the bubbles while listening to Mayor Rahm Emanuel, Adam Rapoport, Editor-in-Chief of Bon Appétit, and others kick off the day and deciding which of the many cooking demonstrations, tasting pavilions, and wine samples to try. It became obvious that it would be impossible to see and taste everything that was offered, but I was willing take the challenge!

The first seminar of the day, The Mexican Takeover, was presented by celebrity chefs Rick Bayless of Frontera Grill, Topolobampo, and XOCO and Carlos Gaytan of Mexique. Both were having such fun on stage sharing tips (Rick Bayless loves the Vitamix) and techniques (keep roasting those vegetables) while tackling the daunting job of creating beautiful food in under twenty minutes…the audience loved it and it was all I could do not to close my eyes and dream of Mexico while I was tantalized by the aromas wafting from the demonstration kitchen.

After tasting culinary creations from The Berghoff Restaurant, Mercadito, Piccolo Sogno, and mk The Restaurant, I stopped at the Bon Appétit Culinary Stage where I attended the Life After Top Chef: The Family Business. Beverly Kim of Parachute and Spike Mendelsohn of Good Stuff Eatery shared their stories and demonstrated signature dishes. Mendelsohn had just won the previous night’s Hamburger Hop, a battle among top chefs in a burger showdown, with his Obama Burger laden with Amish gorgonzola cheese, horseradish mayo, red onion marmalade…all sequestered on a brioche bun.  As he was making this winner once again, the intense aromas filling the air made all of the salivating onlookers want to rush to the grill and grab a bite.

Then there were the wines! At the numerous Great Lawn Tasting Tents I sampled newly released wine from Cline Family Cellars, Achaval Ferrer, Aveniu Brands, Faust Vineyard, Grgich Hills Estate, Groth Vineyards and Winery, Louis Latour, Oyster Bay, Patz & Hall, Trump Winery, and (trust me) many others. Sipping and chatting with friends on large banquettes placed on the lawn added to the carefree mood of the day.

What did I miss?  Lines were too long for the Napa Legends seminar featuring Larry Stone of Quintessa Vineyards and I was too busy tasting wine at the tents to attend the Great Wines of Tuscany seminar presented by Serafin Alvarado of Southern Wines and Spirits of Illinois.  Word in the park was that How to Host a Cocktail Party was incredible and the attendees received fabulous goodie bags…I’ll be attending that one next year!  Although not as much of a beer lover as a wine aficionado, I would have enjoyed Pairing Food with Beer presented by Amanda Downing of Rockit Bar and Grill and Daniel Joly of Stella Artois. For more details about the two day schedule, please check out the Chicago Gourmet site.

With my separate ticket, I was admitted into the Grand Cru Tasting on the rooftop of the Harris Theatre where James Beard recognized chefs offered delicious small bites paired with premium, elite wines. Stephanie Izard of Girl & the Goat and Little Goat served goat empanadas with heirloom tomato and Sepia’s Andrew Zimmerman offered a savory charred eggplant tortoloni with cashew, sesame, and curry leaf. I loved the roasted fig, Calabrian style ‘nduja with castelmagno and fennel created by Tony Manuano and Chris Marchino of one of my favorite Chicago restaurants, Spiaggia.

Many wines at the Grand Cru Tasting were notable and I recommend that you look for these releases. Among those I enjoyed were the Mount Veeder Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Overture by Opus One 2010, Patz & Hall “Hyde Vineyard” Chardonnay 2012, Marques de Riscal “Gran Reserva” Rioja 2005, Silver Oak Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Sanford “Sanford & Benedict Vineyard” Pinot Noir 2011, Quintessa 2011, and Charles Krug “Generations” 2011.  Honestly, it was impossible to taste all of the wines being poured although I gave it my best effort!

Where else could a wine and food lover have so much variety and quality in their glass and on their plate if not Chicago Gourmet? Not only does my sweet home Chicago boast an award winning international culinary scene but in 2015 it will host the James Beard Foundation Awards. That said, be sure to add Chicago Gourmet 2015 to your calendar and purchase your tickets early. Make this destination a priority.

Cheers ~ Cindy

 Note: A special thank you goes to Isabelli Media Relations for offering me a media pass to this extraordinary event.



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