Super Bowl Wine and Dine: Lucien Albrecht Crémant d’Alsace and Spicy Vegetarian Chili

Although I’m more than disappointed that my beloved Green Bay Packers aren’t in Sunday’s Super Bowl, I’m creating an action plan to help me get through and actually enjoy the football marathon.  I’ve made up my mind about which team to cheer for (the Seahawks) and which colors to wear during the game (green and yellow as an homage to the Packers).  Most importantly, I’ve decided what dish and wine to bring to the party.

My year long food obsession has been Spicy Vegetarian Chili from Whole Foods.  During last year’s Polar Vortex, nothing satisfied me more than a cup of this chili laden with peppers, onion, chili, cumin, chipotles, cilantro, beans, and more.  I continue to crave this hearty vegetarian delight chock full of nutrients and bold tastes and I’m hoping that others will find it just as delicious as I do – even those meat loving football fans.

Spicy Vegetarian Chili


  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 Medium yellow onion (chopped)
  • 1 Large carrot (chopped)
  • 1 stalk celery (chopped)
  • 1 Medium green bell pepper (cored, seeded, chopped)
  • 1 Medium red bell pepper (cored, seeded, chopped)
  • 3 cloves garlic (finely chopped)
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1 tablespoon chipotles in adobo (finely chopped)
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 28oz can diced tomatoes (with their liquid)
  • 3 cups cooked red kidney beans (drained)
  • 1 1/2 cup cooked black beans (drained)


Step 1
Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat.
Step 2
Add onions, carrots, celery, peppers and garlic. Cook for 10-12 minutes, until vegetables are softened but not browned.
Step 3
Add chipotles, oregano, cumin, chili powder and salt. Stir to blend.
Step 4
Add tomatoes and 4 cups of water.
Step 5
Gently simmer over low heat, uncovered for 45 minutes.
Step 6
Add beans and simmer an additional 30 minutes.
Step 7
Garnish individual bowls with green onions or sour cream, if desired.
Step 8

The wine pairing was easy: bubbles!  Although Champagne, Prosecco, Cava, or another sparkling wine would be lovely,  I chose a bottle of Lucien Albrecht Brut Blanc de Blancs Crémant d’Alsace (NV).  From family owned winery, Lucien Albrecht located in the Alsace region of France, this sparkling wine consists of 100% Pinot Blanc grapes.   It is made in the Méthode Champenoise with malolactic fermentation.  In the glass the wine is straw colored and elegant bubbles persist with enticing aromas of mineral and honeysuckle.  On the palate, I love its dry, light, and tart citrus tastes.  The Crémant d’Alsace works beautifully with the spicy chili because of its high acidity, neutral flavors, and sparkling mouthfeel.  Cost is $20.


My Packers may not be playing in the Super Bowl, but I’m confident that I have a winning food and wine pairing sure to satisfy any football fan’s palate.  And that’s something to cheer for! 

Enjoy the game ~ Cindy


Posted in Recipes, Regional Wines, Sparkling Tastes, Wine Reviews | Tagged Leave a comment

Blog Post DividerFINAL.png

2015 Women of the Vine Global Symposium – Guest Post by J’nai Gaither

J’nai Gaither is one of my colleagues in this wonderful world of wine.  I’m thrilled to post her article about the exciting 2015 Women of the Vine Global SymposiumFor more about J’nai please scroll to the end of the post.


Let’s face it. There is a dearth of women in the world of wine and the industry is somewhat prejudiced against women. Even in luxury mags like Departures and the Robb Report, wine is targeted toward men. In restaurants, servers and sommeliers proceed to hand the wine list to the male at the table, even though women are graduating from college with enology degrees at higher rates than ever before.

The kicker? Some of the most storied wine labels have women at the helm including Heidi Barrett, formerly of Screaming Eagle; Zelma Long of Long Vineyards and formerly, Chandon Estates and Simi winery; Susana Balbo of Crios and Dominio del Plata; and the prolific talents of Gina Gallo. And those are just women in the role of winemaker. There are myriad other roles that are integral in ensuring a winery runs smoothly, from cellar master and vineyard manager to CEO and president.

The inaugural 2015 Women of the Vine Global Symposium, taking place March 13-15 at Napa’s Meritage Resort during Women’s History Month, will bring all roles to the fore, highlighting the talent and diversity of women in this fascinating field– giving women the chance to network across industries– from marketing to publishing to retail.

Women of the Vine is the brainchild of Deborah Brenner, a marketing executive-turned-author, whose calling was to champion and advance women in the complex world of wine. In 2007, she wrote a book: Women of the Vine: Inside the World of Women Who Make, Taste and Enjoy Wine. It went on to garner tons of acclaim and inclusion in Wine Spectator‘s Critical Reads section as one of its Best New Books. The 25 profiles of women coming from all facets of the industry was the culmination of years of exhaustive research and travel, to bring readers ever-closer to the women who make up the industry. This inaugural Symposium was borne from that book as a way to connect all women in wine for purposes of networking and collaboration.

As this Symposium is the first of its kind, it’d be okay to expect some growing pains or glitches, or even a less-than-stellar lineup until years down the road when it gets its sea legs. Not here. You could say that Brenner has had eight years to perfect this event, and the panel of speakers and guests suggest planning has paid off.

Some of the notable attendees/panelists include Debra Meiburg, MW; Susan Sokol-Blosser of Sokol Blosser; Elizabeth Vianna, winemaker of Chimney Rock; Meridith May, publisher of Tasting Panel magazine; Leslie Sbrocco, Today Show contributor and president of ThirstyGirl; Virgine Boone, editor of Wine Enthusiast mag and many more. The two jam-packed days will host panels like “Life, Drink it Up: One Woman’s Journey to Make Her Passion Her Career” and “Branding that Works: How to Stand Out Amongst the Competition.” In addition to the stellar panels, delicious lunches and fabulous networking, the culminating event is a grand tasting of over 40 wineries with women who run the show.

The cost to attend the Symposium is $699. The Meritage Resort & Spa, the host hotel, is offering a discounted room rate, and Avis car rentals will offer a discount as well. If you have ever dreamt of making a career change and living the wine life of your dreams OR if you want to improve your positioning in this ever-changing field, it would behoove you to sign up soon. Only a few tickets remain.


J’nai Gaither is a copywriter and freelance food and wine writer in Chicago. Her love of food began as a child in the Windy City, going to fancy restaurants with her mom every few months. As a 20-year old, she fell in love with the complexity and intrigue of wine, and decided to pursue her passion to the hilt – taking wine classes, obtaining certifications and frequent eno-tourism. She then found that she could barely contain her excitement when discussing her food and wine passions, and figured the best forum to extol virtues of gastronomy was to write about it…and so her foray into food and wine journalism began. Her articles have appeared in Plate magazine, Grub Street Chicago, Eater Chicago, the Minority Wine Report, and other publications.


Posted in Events and Travel, Guest Posts, Wine Connoisseurs | Leave a comment

Blog Post DividerFINAL.png

Affordable Wines from Stepping Stone by Cornerstone – It’s the Weekend!

While at the grocery store a few days ago I bumped into an acquaintance I hadn’t seen in several years.  After sharing the requisite catch up stories about family and jobs, I mentioned that I wrote regularly on my wine blog.  She was excited yet made it very clear that I should write about wines that were under $20, yet she would also read about more expensive wines if they were “really good”.  But of course! I have been writing about delicious, well priced wines for years.

As I talk to friends both old and new, young and “mature”, they share the same plea: help us find affordable, delicious wine. These wine lovers are like you and me.  We love to sip and savor wine with good friends, while reading a book, during cooking, or even when relaxing in a bubble bath.  We would like to have a nice bottle of wine at the ready for when friends drop by unexpectedly or when a lovely dinner is planned.  And we simply don’t want to spend a fortune on a bottle of wine (unless it’s “really good”!).

The affordable white and red wines I am suggesting this week are from one of my go-to wineries, Cornerstone Cellars.  Their Stepping Stone label is a favorite for its easy drinking style, ability to enjoy as soon as you purchase a bottle, consistent character, and quality to price ratio.  Isn’t this what we are all looking for?

2013 Stepping Stone by Cornerstone White Rocks! (sample) -  The 2013 White Rocks! is a secret blend of Chardonnay, Viognier, and Muscat Canelli.  With the goal of crafting an interesting wine not tied to any formula, the blend changes with each vintage in order to focus on taste and quality.  And what a delicious blend this is.  Intense aromas of bright citrus and minerality created that “wow” factor.  On the palate, I loved the mouthwatering acidity, refreshing tastes of pear and melon, tropical fruits, and balance all of which led to a lingering finish, both tart and fruit forward.  This wine will satisfy any wine lover who would like to enjoy it as an aperitif, pair with appetizers or a crisp salad.  As Craig Camp, Managing Partner at Cornerstone Cellars, writes, “Stepping Stone by Cornerstone Rocks! are house wines for serious wine connoisseurs, yet they are priced so that even the most budget minded wine drinker can enjoy a great bottle wine.”  Cost is $14.99.

2012 Cornerstone Oregon Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, Stepping Stone Cuvee, Artist Series (sample) – There is no need to cellar this wonderful example of Oregon Pinot Noir, but if you must, it will be just as lovely in two or three years.  Beautiful, lush raspberries, blueberries, and purple flowers were aromas I couldn’t resist; they were smooth and mesmerizing.  Rich and fruit forward with juicy red fruits, blackberries, and sweet spice on the palate, its soft tannins and zesty acidity paired oh-so-well with a savory Panini oozing cheese, tomatoes, avocadoes, and smoked turkey.  Cost is $30 and you may want to serve it with a bit of a chill.


Cheers! ~ Cindy

Posted in Regional Wines, Wine Reviews | Tagged , , Leave a comment

Blog Post DividerFINAL.png

Cooper’s Hawk Winery & Restaurants: Wine Snobs Not Allowed

murway-coophawk-medals01In 2009, when I first heard of Cooper’s Hawk Winery & Restaurants, my interest was peaked.  Their winemaker, Rob Warren, had done a stint at a small winery in Virginia, my home state, and the concept of a restaurant serving their own wines was new to the Chicago area.  Friends and acquaintances who had dined at Cooper’s Hawk enjoyed the food and by all accounts the wines were pretty tasty, too.

Soon thereafter, I visited their Barrington location for wine and appetizers then for brunch in Naperville a year later.  The experiences were positive:  the food and wines were nice and the price points were nicer.Although there were reasons to return, I didn’t give Cooper’s Hawk much of a chance.  Was it yet another suburban outpost?  Did I prefer a more eclectic wine list with choices from around the world? Were the wines too consumer friendly? And (horror of horrors) was I finally becoming a wine snob?

Fast forward to a few weeks ago when I had the opportunity to chat with Winemaker Rob Warren who arrived at Cooper’s Hawk almost eight years ago. I was particularly interested in the wine program especially after having dined there twice during the holidays and tasted still and sparkling wines that were quite good.   As I expected, grapes are sourced from California, Oregon, Washington, and Michigan.  Production is at their corporate headquarters in Countryside, Illinois and approximately 260,000 cases are produced each year.  Bottles are sent to wine club members and to each of their 18 restaurants located in Indiana, Florida, Ohio, Missouri, Virginia, and Wisconsin.  25-30% of the wines shipped are poured in the restaurants.  Their Blanc de Blanc Sparkling was selected by the First Lady at the Illinois Inaugural Gala in 2013  to pour during her toast and a plethora of awards and accolades have been bestowed.

With a hands-on style, Warren shared that he is looking for “no austere wines.  I want straightforward wines with balanced tannins, acidity, and alcohol.”  He wants to “turn foodies into wine lovers” with wines that are “food friendly and delicious”.  The majority of wines at Cooper’s Hawk are blends and Pinot Noir is their top selling red.

During my visits I tasted their overall top seller, the Almond Sparkling, as well as the Unoaked Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Lux Chardonnay, Lux Cabernet Sauvignon, and Lux Meritage.  Costs per bottle range from $14.99 to $21.99 and prices by the glass are from $6.25 to $8.75 with the Lux wines somewhat higher. Warren explained that wines under the Lux label are blended with “better grapes from better vineyards with labor intensive winemaking.” The Lux Cabernet, for example, is aged in “high quality barrels”. Can you remember seeing a restaurant’s wine list with bottles and by the glass offerings at those prices?  I certainly don’t.

But what about the fact that there is no vintage date on any label?  Was my Lux Meritage a 2009 or 2012?  Apparently there are no vintage dates for any wines and haven’t been since 2008.  This gives Warren great levity in blending grapes from different vintages in order to produce the style of wine desired.  And according to Warren, no one seems to care…especially the over 113,000 wine club members who participate in one of the largest in the country.

The Cooper’s Hawk Wine Club requires no fee to join and for starters, $18.99 each month will earn you one bottle.  One of the many perks in this popular club is that members can purchase club only wines, those that are not on the restaurant’s wine list, when they dine at the restaurant.  Besides discounts, there is an upcoming wine trip to Portugal, themed events, and dinners that are exclusive to wine club members.  Most of these offerings are sold out.

Visitors can try the wines in the tasting room located near the restaurant entrance within an expansive gift shop boasting bottles of Cooper’s Hawk wines and any wine related item they may desire.  Plenty of wine lovers held court at the tasting bar each time I visited Cooper’s Hawk.  Starting at $7, thirsty guests are able to taste eight wines.  During my latest visit, the tasting room offered tastes from two categories:  Sweet Tasting with Moscato, Gewurtztraminer, and fruity wines such as Peach and Passion Fruit, and Monthly Selections that may include Chardonnay, Cooper’s Hawk White, Cabernet Zinfandel, and more.  An array of food and chocolates to pair with that newly purchased wine can be found a few steps away from the bar.

Is Rob Warren meeting his goal of creating wine lovers from foodies?  It looks that way.  During my visits almost every guest old enough to imbibe in the crowded dining room had a glass of wine in hand.  The wine list offers a brief tasting note for each wine.  The lunch and dinner menus offer a suggested wine pairing after each selection.  In the event of customer questions, the manager and servers are well informed about the various wines in order to provide assistance.  At the very least, these food lovers have become Cooper’s Hawk wine lovers.

I’m glad that I gave Cooper’s Hawk another chance.  Yes, the restaurants are located in the Chicago suburbs and on the outskirts of other large cities.  You don’t have to fight city traffic to enjoy a good meal and a lovely glass of wine - a big plus.  Yes, the wine list isn’t international, but is crafted to pair with menu selections and the vast range of tastes of Cooper’s Hawk diners.   Yes, the wines are consumer friendly; their wine business is booming with total projected 2014 revenues (which include the restaurant, online orders, and wine club) of $116 million.

And no, I’m not a wine snob.  I appreciate an easy drinking glass of wine at an affordable price and Cooper’s Hawk delivers.  Even without the vintage date.

Cheers~ Cindy


Posted in Regional Wines, Restaurants, Sparkling Tastes, Wine Connoisseurs, Wine Reviews, Wineries | 1 Comment


One Response to “Cooper’s Hawk Winery & Restaurants: Wine Snobs Not Allowed”
show comments ⇓

  1. Linda Rooney


Blog Post DividerFINAL.png

Win $100 to Uncommon Goods for Cool Wine Stuff!

One of my favorite online retailers is independently owned Uncommon Goods thanks to their brilliant array of unique designs and handcrafted gifts that are environmentally, animal, and people friendly.  I have purchased a number of items, wine related in particular, and keep going back for more.  Now you can love Uncommon Goods as much as I do once you win the giveaway for a $100 creditThe lucky winner will be announced Sunday, February 1 – just in time for your Valentine’s Day shopping!

Naturally you’d like interesting and unusual wine items for that special wine lover in your life or (let’s be frank) yourself.  Check out their artisan crafted kitchen and bar selections including a pretty cool Wine Sack, Hammerhead Shark Corkscrew and Bottle Opener, or Wine Pairing Towel Set by clicking here.  How about unusual and practical glassware such as the Tilted Wine Decanter with a pocket for ice or curved Champagne glasses? Just click here! Naturally there are more eclectic choices that are specially curated so check out Uncommon Goods‘ full website.

One of the many reasons I keep purchasing items from Uncommon Goods is that their mission is to support artists and designers.   Half of their inventory is hand made and most products are created in the United States.  About one-third incorporates recycled or upcycled materials.  I have been consistently impressed with the products that impact the world in a positive way and their respect for the integrity of creative individuals.

As of early December 2014, Uncommon Goods has donated over $1 million to their Better to Give partners thanks to their customers who have the opportunity to select a non-profit organization with every order placed.  When a partner is chosen at check out, $1 is donated on the customer’s behalf. I love that.

To enter the giveaway, follow the directions below to “like” Uncommon Goods’ Facebook page and/or follow Uncommon Goods on Twitter! Leave your email address, pour yourself a glass of wine, and keep your fingers crossed.  Rafflecopter will legitimately select a winner at midnight February 1 and the lucky recipient will be notified Monday, February 2!

Good luck! ~ Cindy

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Posted in Events and Travel, Product Reviews, Random Thoughts, Wine Connoisseurs | 4 Comments


4 Responses to “Win $100 to Uncommon Goods for Cool Wine Stuff!”
show comments ⇓

  1. trevor brown

    Thank you for the giveaway opportunity!

  2. I’m not familiar with this company, but am very interested after reading this. Thanks for sharing. That wine carafe looks perfect for our hot temperatures in Palm Springs -

    Hope you are doing well!

Blog Post DividerFINAL.png