Paul Cullen of Bad Company Feels Like Makin’ Dinner (and bringing wine)

Italian wines at our Paul Cullen dinnerAt 5pm on a drizzly but cool Thursday evening this summer, Paul Cullen, former bassist for Bad Company, arrived exactly on time to take over my kitchen with all things food and wine. And yes, he brought his guitar, too. You see, Paul is now a personal chef with an interesting concept. Not only will he prepare a delicious, traditional Italian meal using fresh ingredients and bring plenty of wines for pairing, Paul will clean up the kitchen then entertain hosts and guests with a 45 minute concert of his original jazz compositions and Bad Company hits! (And for those of you who aren’t familiar with the music of Bad Company, the title of this post is a play on words of their song Feel Like Makin’ Love…)

A few weeks prior to that July night, a mutual wine friend from the East coast alerted me to the fact that Paul would be in the Chicago area. “Would you like him to cook, pour, and play?” she asked. Having been Paul’s friend on social media and knowing about his venture, I quickly said “yes” and emailed him immediately. Paul and I arranged the time, the menu, and wines and I put together the guest list…the evening was one of most memorable the fourteen of us music and wine loving foodies have had!

Frankly, I felt a bit guilty (well, sort of) observing Paul master the art of making dinner for fourteen in an unfamiliar kitchen while the two of us sipped a glass of wine. I was mesmerized as Paul make the most aromatic Tuscan chicken liver pate with capers, anchovies, garlic, shallots, sage, and white wine, delicious, hearty Tuscan Bean Crostini (recipe below), and tender, savory risotto from scratch before the guests arrived. After our crowd had their wine glasses filled…and filled again, Paul created homemade ravioli (served later with kale pesto), much to the delight of us non-Italians most of whom purchase theirs in the freezer case at the grocery store. We continued to chat with Paul and each other, pour more wine, and savor appetizers such as roasted asparagus wrapped in speck while salads were prepped.

Paul Cullen preps dinner
Dinner on my porch was superb, the conversation lively, wine flowed all night. Dessert of fresh, seasonal berries under a light blanket of balsamic vinaigrette was served after which we adjourned to the family room for a concert of memorable Bad Company songs harkening back to our youth and new to us tunes written by Paul.

Following is the recipe for Tuscan Bean Crostini as well as a review of Le Vigne di Alice Doro DOCG Brut 2011, a sparkler, that paired particularly well. For photos of more wines Paul brought as well as others from that special evening, please check out my Facebook page.

Of course, you will want to look at Paul’s site and consider contacting him. And don’t forget to watch the video below. He’ll “feel like makin’ dinner” for you, too!

Tuscan Bean Crostini


  • 1 baguette (sliced 1/4 inch thick)
  • 2/3 cups extra virgin olive oil
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 can cannellini beans (drained and rinsed)
  • 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • fresh rosemary
  • squeeze of lemon
  • 3 cloves garlic (roasted)


Step 1
Slice baguette and brush both sides with olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Bake in 350 degree oven until golden, turning once.
Step 2
Put all topping ingredients in a food processor or muddle in a bowl. Ingredient measurements can vary. Always taste to see what you need!
Step 3
Spread topping on baked baguette slices and enjoy!!

Tuscan Bean Crostini
Le Vigne di Alice Doro DOCG Brut 2011 – You may be surprised to think that a sparkling wine paired so well with the Tuscan Bean Crostini…but it did! The Glera grape in this dry Prosecco is from a single vineyard at the foothills of the Dolomites located in Italy’s Veneto region. Rich and elegant with depth I don’t often find in a sparkler, effervescent bubbles danced in my glass. Aromas and tastes of citrus dominated and this fresh, fun Prosecco was not only food friendly, but a terrific first pour of our evening with Paul Cullen. Cost is around $22.

Le Vigne di alice Doro 2011

Cheers~ Cindy

Posted in Events and Travel, Recipes, Regional Wines, Sparkling Tastes, Thinking Out of the Box, Wine Connoisseurs, Wine Reviews | Tagged , 2 Comments


2 Responses to “Paul Cullen of Bad Company Feels Like Makin’ Dinner (and bringing wine)”
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  1. What a cool evening! I am so jealous. What a memorable experience!

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CEO Tim McEnery on the Cooper’s Hawk Experience

“Here, Cindy, just take it. It’s one of my favorites,” he said as we walked through the retail shop. He is Tim McEnery, CEO and founder of Cooper’s Hawk Winery and Restaurants, and it was a jar of fresh vegetable giardiniera that I had just enjoyed during the opening of their new location in Oak Lawn, Illinois. Having been invited to the event where I was able to meet McEnery and others, I relaxed on the cozy patio with retractable roof and outdoor fireplace after a tour. While I sipped a fresh Chenin Blanc, a crisp Rosé, lightly oaked Chardonnay and spicy Syrah paired with a variety of flatbreads, calamari with sweet and spicy sauce, and more dishes new to the menu it was apparent that anyone visiting Cooper’s Hawk was not going to have only a glass of wine and lovely meal. They were going to have an opportunity to engage in a lifestyle. With its wine tasting area, separate bar with a casual vibe, modern and upbeat restaurant, wine club offering plenty of perks, and online and on location retail shops, Cooper’s Hawk is unique. And McEnery allows that he wants to “create an experience” for everyone walking through the door”.

Currently, Cooper’s Hawk is present and vibrant in seven states with nineteen locations; the Jacksonville, Florida location is scheduled to open in October. Grapes for all wines are sourced from quality vineyards around the world and produced in their winery facility in suburban Countryside, Illinois, also home to their corporate offices. The varied lunch and dinner menu in each restaurant includes suggested wine pairings, all of which are, of course, affordable Cooper’s Hawk wines. When you enter any location, you will be greeted by a welcoming staff as you walk through the tasting area and retail shop where items ranging from kitschy wine accessories and gifts to high quality food products, many of which incorporate their wines. Be sure to try the Pear Gorgonzola Riesling dressing and don’t leave without a chocolate truffle – wow!


I caught up with Tim McEnery at his office just days after he had returned from Venice where a well priced Prosecco, soon to be offered as a Wine of the Month, was being produced. I was curious to hear how the Cooper’s Hawk concept evolved, but more importantly, to understand how he has been able to accomplish incredible growth in just nine years.

The Cooper’s Hawk Concept Develops

When McEnery was 11 he washed dishes at a local golf club and during high school, at the same club, managed banquets and catering. After graduating from Purdue University with a degree in Restaurant and Hotel Management, he was offered a job at Green Gardens Country Club in south suburban Chicago, where he became General Manager in charge of “ overseeing a full service golf course, restaurant and events”. Along the way, he formed the idea whereby any wine lover could enjoy a glass from a winery while enjoying a delicious meal in a setting that would be distinctive. It seemed like a simple concept, but at that time only two wineries and no full service restaurants offered such an experience.

After a two year stint as a financial advisor and two years in the Specialty Food Division at Aramark, McEnery became a manager for two years at Lynfred Winery where he was able to learn the intricate details of wine production, retail, and the wine business in general. During that time, he persevered and spent nights and weekends creating the business plan which would become Cooper’s Hawk. After being rejected by twelve banks, McEnery received the commitment from one and the equity he needed from investors to make his vision a reality.  He opened that first restaurant in Orland Park in 2005 when he was 27 years old.

And That Success?

McEnery knows that “teamwork is crucial” and the success of Cooper’s Hawk has much to do with the wineries from which he sources high quality grapes (their Lux Pinot Noir recently garnered 99 points at the 2015 Critics Challenge International Wine Competition) as well as the caliber of the people who work at each restaurant and the corporate offices. He visits various locations to ensure that there “is a delicate balance…to set the right direction, to get the right people. It’s all about who you want to do business with.” He shared that staff members are being trained to be knowledgeable about the fundamentals of the wines in order to encourage customers to enjoy the experience.

Coopers Hawk Lux Pinot Noir
Achieving a “life balance” for the staff is equally important to McEnery who is aware that the best employees are those that “have fun, celebrate, enjoy a change of pace.” He actively seeks out “good people” and once a month a focus group of servers and other staff members at each restaurant meet to discuss successes and consider changes.

Yet Tim McEnery, approachable and humble, is the true cornerstone of Cooper’s Hawk. His unique concept is one that the wine loving consumer is craving. There are about 150,000 wine club members at this time. I have wined at the tasting room, dined with glass in hand, and purchased items at the retail shop at four Cooper’s Hawk locations so far and plan to return. Apparently others do, too, because each time I have visited, the tasting room and restaurant are packed with wine lovers.

Remember the fresh vegetable giardiniera? Thank you, Tim! I have served it as a small plate with slices of crusty baguette, as a side to grilled chicken and pork, and atop Italian beef sandwiches. It’s delicious and just may be my new favorite, too…with a glass of Cooper’s Hawk Chenin Blanc or Lux Pinot Noir, of course.

Cheers~ Cindy

Cooper's Hawk fresh vegetable giardiniere

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A Fun-Forward Weekend with Rocks! by Cornerstone Cellars

There are plenty of wonderful wines you can purchase for less than $20. But having tasted three wines from Rocks! by Cornerstone Cellars, one of my favorite wineries that consistently produces quality wines, I have yet more outstanding selections to share with you!

It was an easy choice to bring the 2013 Red Rocks, 2014 Rosé Rocks, and 2014 White Rocks to the lake house this past weekend and share them with friends and family who love delicious wine but don’t want to pay exhorbitant prices. Sun, fun, and clinking glasses filled with our new favorites that will only set you back $15? Yes, please!

All of the wines under the Rocks! label are blends of varieties, the percentages of which change from year to year. The blend is a carefully guarded secret. One year there may be a little bit more of one variety and a smattering of another; the following year “that” variety in the blend may be more than the other. I love a delectable surprise and apparently others do, too.  Craig Camp, Managing Partner of Cornerstone Cellars, explained that “it sounded like fun to create some wines that were not tied down to varietal labeling restrictions and just let our creativity go wild. So Rocks! was born…” Camp began loving blends in the early 1980s when most wine lovers scoffed at the idea.  He tried Vintage Tunina from Fruili and wines from the south of France all of which, in his own words, “blew me away”! Practicality was the method that drove the decision to blend at the time; a combination of varieties “helped the grower from the vagaries of vintages”.  This makes complete sense to me.

Ready to drink the day of purchase, Rocks! wines are approachable, value driven palate pleasers.  They could easily be considered your new “house wine”, in my humble, wine loving opinion.

2014 White Rocks! by Cornerstone (sample) – One of my friends immediately declared that this wine, a blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, and Orange Muscat, is a “great day drinking wine”.  I agree, but this could certainly go into the evening, too! The intense aromas of white flowers and tropical fruit led to clean tastes of juicy fruit, pineapple, pear, mango, and grapefruit.  Light and refreshing, pair the White Rocks! with anything from spicy barbecued wings to salty chips to your favorite picnic sandwich (although our group finished the bottle before the appetizers were even served). Cost is $15.

2014 White Rocks! by Cornerstone
2014 Rosé Rocks! by Cornerstone – You’d never believe that this was a rosé by the deep salmon red color in the glass.  This incredibly dry rosé of Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, and Syrah had strength in both aroma and taste – attributes I don’t usually find but appreciate in this type of wine.  Bright, enticing aromas of cherries, pomegranate, raspberries wafted from my glass.  On the palate, luscious red fruits dominated with a backbone of bracing acidity and enough spice to make me consider this wine one of the most food friendly I’ve found.  We paired the Rosé Rocks! with old fashioned southern barbecue sandwiches on the back porch but you could also enjoy a few glasses with pizza, salads, even steak.  Cost is $15.

2014 Rose Rocks! by Cornerstone
2013 Red Rocks! by Cornerstone – A red wine that is more complex that you would think at this price point, I found rich let light red fruits including strawberries and raspberries on the nose.  Savory tastes of more red fruit, earth, nutmeg, cloves, and spice with bright acidity and integrated tannins paired with our homemade bruschetta.  And the blend? Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, and Pinot Noir… You may want to throw a few burgers or brats on the grill and pair with the Red Rocks! Just don’t feel guilty about letting your friends think that you spent much more than you did! Cost is $15.

2013 Red Rocks! by Cornerstone

Two years ago, I wrote about earlier vintages of Rocks!   After tasting the wines reviewed above, I’m loving this new generation. Fun-forward? You bet! Our group had a fabulous time at the lake this weekend and Rocks! wines from Cornerstone Cellars made it that much more memorable.

Cheers~ Cindy

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Three Sizzling Summer Reds from Ferrari-Carano Vineyards and Winery

Refreshing on a warm day, what’s not to love about a crisp Albariño, a mineral driven Sauvignon Blanc, or a snappy Pinot Grigio? But don’t forget about delicious red wines that will pair with any summertime activity. Recently, I had the opportunity to taste three red wines sent as samples from Ferrari-Carano Vineyards and Winery, learn from Rebecka Deike, Assistant Winemaker, and share thoughts with wine blogger colleagues during a Twitter tasting. Move over, summer whites…make room for these Ferrari-Carano reds on the table!

Located on Dry Creek Valley Road in Healdsburg, California, Ferrari-Carano was founded by Don and Rhonda Carano in 1981 with grapes from a small, 30 acre plot. It now encompasses 24 estate vineyards in five appellations totaling 1700 acres in Sonoma, Napa, and Mendocino Counties where sustainable farming practices, labor intensive strategies, and “grape source and terroir are emphasized”. Just this year, Ferrari- Carano was recognized by the CSWA as a 100% Certified California Sustainable Vineyard. Brands include Ferrari-Carano Vineyards and Winery in Sonoma, Lazy Creek Vineyards in Mendocino, three wine production facilities, the Vintner’s Inn and John Ash & Co. Restaurant in Santa Rosa, and Seasons of the Vineyard Tasting Bar & Boutique in Healdsburg.

Ferrari-Carano Vineyards and Winery
Just as approachable as the wines we tasted, Assistant Winemaker Rebecka Deicke shared her story. With a bachelor’s degree in Cellular and Molecular Biology, she decided to switch careers from microbiology to winemaking. Rebecka joined Ferrari-Carano in 2004 as Enologist after having entered the winemaking world in 2000 as an intern, lab technician, and Assistant Enologist at Jordan. After two years at Ferrari-Carano, she was promoted to her current position and supervises the red wines program, including the PreVail wines and the Mountain Winery production facility in Alexander Valley. Rebecka shared that she enjoys combining science and art in her winemaking and “loves the seasonal experiences and the connection between seeing the vines develop in the vineyards, the grapes ripening, and witnessing the transformation of grapes into wine.”

Anxious to swirl, sip, and savor, we opened the 2013 Ferrari-Carano Pinot Noir from Anderson Valley where warm days and cool nights are the norm. I found intense aromas of dark cherries, raspberries, and a twang of white pepper on the nose. Fresh and fruit driven with notes of cinnamon, spice, and red flowers, this rich wine was lifted up by bright acidity and satisfied us all with toasty notes on its lingering finish. You could easily pair this Pinot Noir with vegetarian dishes, salmon, chicken, grilled meats, or beef stew on a breezy summer night. Cost is $30.60.

2013 Ferrari-Carano Pinot Noir Anderson Valley
After tasting the 2012 Ferrari-Carano Siena from Sonoma County, you’ll have to agree that this will be a luscious pairing with rich and delicious Italian fare while dining al fresco. The Siena is a blend of predominantly Sangiovese along with Malbec, Petit Sirah, and Cabernet Sauvignon. Aged in 20% new Hungarian puncheon and 80% older French oak, beautiful aromas of blackberries, cocoa, and strawberries led to intense tastes of ripe cherries, earth, vanilla, and spice. Robust with plenty of depth, I appreciated the integrated tannins and smooth, lasting finish. Cost is $23.

2012 Ferrari-Carano Siena Sonoma County
Zinfandel in the summer? Absolutely! The 2012 Ferrari-Carano Zinfandel from Dry Creek Valley is 97% Zinfandel and 3% Petit Sirah. Aromas of blackberries, juicy plums, and boysenberry leapt from the glass. On the palate, powerful notes of toasty caramel, maple, white pepper, warm spice, chocolate and layers upon layers of dark jammy fruit flavors dominated. The finish on the Zinfandel was extra special…think of tasting the top of a crème brulèe and you’ll know what I mean! So food friendly, this Zinfandel will easily pair with any meat dishes you’ll want to serve, spicy charcuterie, hard cheeses, and even a decadent triple chocolate cake! Cost is $28.

2012 Ferrari-Carano Zinfandel Dry Creek Valley

With three more reasons to enjoy summer, you may want to open these Ferrari-Carano reds as soon as possible and make every moment linger!

Cheers! ~ Cindy

Summer Reds from Ferrari-Carano


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Zymology Wine Collective: Opening the Gate to Adventurous Wines

zymology1The name zymology means the chemistry of fermentation. To Demian Deschepper, self proclaimed Prime Minister of the Chicago based wine importer and distributor by the same name, this word is perfect. As a “science and wine geek”, Deschepper, along with co-owner Kelsey Norcott, has formed Zymology Wine Collective and secures unique wines of superior quality from boutique, family owned, benchmark level producers from around the world, wines that other suppliers do not have access to. Having worked with the wineries to “negotiate pricing that is mutually beneficial and sustainable for themselves and the consumer”, these wines are delivered to sommeliers, restaurants, and the trade in the Chicago area. No wine is purchased from domestic brokers; Zymology Wine Collective is able to bring wines to the market at 15-20% less than wholesalers. In essence, Deschepper and Norcott are “gatekeepers” who bring difficult to procure wines to Chicago wine lovers.

Recently, I had the opportunity to chat with Demian while noshing on cheese and charcuterie and savoring tastes of four bottles of special, small production wines at his Chicago office. After a few years of experience in sales and working with a too-large (for him) wine company, he realized the need for a business employing those with a high work ethic who also share his passion for wine. Founded in 2013, Deschepper has created a collegial working environment that “breeds loyalty”; after a certain amount of time, each employee owns a small share in the company. Strong relationships are also built with those in the trade who appreciate the concept and fairness of Zymology. Value and service are paramount.

Yet wine is king. Deschepper carefully curates his extensive portfolio of wines around the world and personally visits wineries that make up to 200 cases per year. Wines are sent to him for review although this does not guarantee a place on the list. Specifically, Deschepper is seeking interesting, exceptional wines with small production. A selection of his wines are in Chicago restaurants including Del Frisco, Acanto, Acadia, Ceres’ TableDavid Burke’s Primehouse, Fairmont Hotel, Bascule Wine Bar, and City Winery. Consumer reaction has been positive. Sommeliers enjoy educating others about these wines and frankly, wine lovers “want to try new things”. He admits that he is looking to expand to other areas of the country and is now receiving investor funding.

If the quality of all of the wines in the Zymology portfolio is as high as those I tasted then Demien Deschepper is certainly achieving one of his goals; the wines I tasted were notable.

The Ancilla Lugana Ella 2014 was 100% Turbiana, a variety I had not tried. From vineyards in Lake Garda in the northeast of Italy, the wine was pale yellow in the glass with aromas and tastes of juicy citrus and a hint of grapefruit layered with bracing acidity and minerality. The winery is owned by Luisella Benedetti, a third generation of women to run the estate, who is maintaining her heritage by crafting wines of Turbiana, also known as Trebbiano di Lugana.

Ancila Lugana Ella 2014
Sent for review to Zymology and accepted, the Graci Etna Bianco 2012 is from the Etna Bianco appellation of Sicily where viticulture dates back several thousand years. This is a blend of 70% Carricante and 30% Cataratto, grapes indigenous to the area, and once more, varieties that were new to me. I could almost smell the smoke of Mount Etna on the nose of this wine that glistened pale yellow with streaks of green in the glass. More aromas of tropical fruit with minerality and salinity led to tastes of rich fruit boasting plenty of character and a long finish. Owner Alberto Aiello Graci shows respect for local traditions and “only cultivates traditional varieties indigenous to Mount Etna”.

Graci Etna Bianco 2012
 From the La Marche region in Italy, the Lacrima di Morro d’Alba DOC 2013 from Lucchetti is a “wine that represents the culture” according to Deschepper. The Lacrima grape, unique to the area, was the color of deep violet in the glass and I found intense aromas of fresh red fruit, violets, and spice. On the palate, red flowers, pepper, and more jammy fruit were predominant and well integrated tannins and acidity completed a balanced profile. Mario Lucchetti, along with his son, has a passion to “restore the importance of the area’s native varietals” and its production remains the family’s focus, although Guardengo is produced as well.

Lucchetti LaCrima di Morro d'Alba DOC 2013
Finally, we tasted the 2011 Northern Blend from Rotie Cellars located in the Walla Walla appellation of Washington. With 95% Syrah and 5% Viognier, I enjoyed the meaty and floral aromas and savored the elegant, rich flavors of dark chocolate, soft spice, and red fruits. This satin smooth wine was balanced and complex with meticulously braided tannins and a long lasting finish. Deschepper explained that the owner of Rotie Cellars “is a geologist by trade” and researched the soil, climate, and more in order to find an optimal location in which to “pay homage to the wines of the Rhone Valley”.

Rotie Northern Blend 2011
Demien Deschepper aims to provide “affordable, approachable wines that are unique, different” to the consumer who will be able to open the gate “to having an adventurous wine”. I appreciate his business model that emphasizes providing high quality, distinctive wine to restaurants and wine stores at a reasonable price.

Every wine lover needs to walk through a gate where a delicious, adventurous wine is waiting. Thanks, Zymology Wine Collective. I think I’ll come in.

Cheers~ Cindy


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