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JUNE 06, 2006
2000 Mas d'en Cosme 'Baboix'

Last week at dinner at Scylla in Chicago, our server turned us on to a wonderful bottle of wine from the Montsant region of northern Spain in Catalonia. The Mas d'en Cosme Baboix is a blend of 20% Garnacha, 20% CariƱena, 15% Tempranillo, 25% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon.

This was one of those wines that upon entering your mouth does a jig on your tongue, makes out with your cheeks and slithers down your throat leaving a silky, lush feeling. The blend worked well with everything -- lamb chops, seafood, the foie gras creme brulee (OMG, the foie gras was unbelievable and yes, I know it's now outlawed in Chicago but there's a grace period). There was so much bright, ripe fruit -- morello cherry, strawberry -- working with white pepper, vanilla, a little cinnamon.

I highly recommend heading over to the Wine Center and getting a bottle of this 2000 that rated 90 points by Wine & Spirits.

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MAY 12, 2006
Stephen Vincent 2004 Crimson

One of the things I love about wine is buying an interesting-sounding bottle that's fairly priced just for the sake of trying it. Sometimes, I drink half a glass, realize the wine is god-awful and either pour the rest down the sink or possibly use it for cooking (which is a rarity).

Last night, I struck gold with a bottle of Sonoma County Stephen Vincent 2004 Crimson, a blend of 75% Syrah and 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, for about $10. The winemaker, who I just talked to, told me that he was going for a Rhone-like characteristic. I was surprised to learn it was blended with Cab, because the ruby-colored wine, while rich in color, was lighter (not light, but not huge either) in taste. That definitely comes from the Syrah. I thought it was maybe blended with merlot, pinot noir or maybe petite verdot (one of my new favorite grapes), but defnitely not cab. It was a nice surprise.

The wine had some really nice ripe fruit accents (dark cherry, some blackberry) and interesting hints of spices. It went well with our four-cheese pizza and spinach salad, but would pair perfectly with a filet, lamb chops or a pasta in a fresh, simple tomato basil sauce.

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MAY 09, 2006
Phiippe Starck Olive Oil. No seriously.


Ok, so maybe he only designed the packaging, but is there anything Philippe Starck doesn't have his hands in? This design genius, who's dabbled in everything from luggage and lamps to clothes and cars, created the perfect canister to hold La Amarilla de Ronda extra virgin olive oils, which is slowly making its way out of the Bay Area via Andalucia, Spain.

Currently there are two varietals: Suave and Intenso. The Suave is pressed from 100% organic Arbequina olives to produce a refined, smooth and well-balanced oil that's great for dipping or salad. The Intenso, pressed from a combination of three olives -- Picual, Hojiblanca and Arbequina, is herbacious, woody and rich and matches well with fish, red meat and, well, dipping bread.

Unfortunately the oils are only available on the West Coast at Whole Foods, but will slowly make their way across the U.S. (although you can order online from some gourmet grocers). They're also available at VIPs in Madrid and by emailing the company directly.

Apparently Treehugger also likes LA.

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Jones Organics

The people behind Jones Sodas recently launched a new product line: Jones Organics bottled organic iced teas.

A great thing about this line, other than the tea only having 13g of carbs and that it's created with organic cane sugar (not high fructose corn syrup), is that the tea is high in antioxidants (green and white) and won't make you all jittery (the red, which is caffeine free). The teas are infused with different flavors including peach, mandarin and the one I loved, berry.

Talk about keeping up with the Joneses.

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A Hot Dog as Plump as Your...


I love a good hot dog -- and much to the chagrin of my dad, I love to put mustard and ketchup on mine (don't ask it's a Chicago thing).

And let's talk about ketchup for a second -- the other day, I went to grab the good ol' Heinz and paused a moment to check the ingredients. Lo and behold, the evil lie within -- high fructose corn syrup. Why on god's good earth does ketchup need that crap?! Fortunately, two slots down on the shelf was Heinz Organic ketchup. I haven't dipped in yet, but I'm assuming it's going to be as good as the original, probably even better.

Ok, so back to the dog.

On Sunday, I found what could be the best hot dog I've ever had. Applegate Farms -- purveyors of all things organic -- has come out with an Organic Stadium-Style Hot Dog. OMG. It was plump. It was juicy. It was all meat. And it wasn't filled with nitrites, hormones, antibiotics and other crap. And it was served in a bun that, truth be told, was a little too doughy, but served it well.

All I have to say: if it looks like a hot dog and walks like a hot dog...

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MAY 06, 2006
St. Francis Old Vine Zin


The other night, four of us dined at Chicago's China Grill, where newly placed chef Philippe Pinon introduced some of his delicious creations, including the most gorgeously plated tempura sashimi -- I tried to snap a picture with my SLVR, but three sets of chopsticks pounced before I could grab the phone out of my pocket.

Since we ordered a range of apps and entrees, like the pan-seared spicy tuna with avocado sashimi, lobster pancakes, tempura beef tenderloin and super-sized Shanghai lobster with crisy spinach, we wanted a wine that would balance all of the flavors.

We first sought out a Pinot Noir but when we were told they didn't have it, we settled on the 2003 St. Francis Old Vine Zinfandel, which turned out to be the perfect match.

The wine was medium bodied with dark cherry overtones and subtle black pepper with a supple fruit beginning and a semi-dry finish. It paired perfectly with the seared tuna just as well as it did the beef tenderloin. Very rarely does a red, let alone a Zin, work well with such a variety of flavors.

I'd never had St. Francis but was definitely familiar with the winery. I'm glad I became a little more intimate with one of the wines that defines St. Francis and actually furthers my claim that Sonoma does have better wineries than the overhyped, overcrowded Napa Valley.

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APRIL 06, 2006
The Fog's Rollin' In

At a recent dinner party, I glimpsed genius in the form of a small half-wheel of cheese: Cypress Grove's signature Humboldt Fog Chevre.

I've been getting more and more into cheese, thanks in part to a few friends who insist on getting cheese plates whenever we hit spots like The Tasting Room and Bin Wine Cafe. And one genre I've fallen hard for is queso de cabra, a.k.a. goat cheese.

So when I saw the beautiful specimen sitting on the plate at the party, I had to dig in. What first attracted me was the pure white color surrounding a strip of gray that ran through the middle, truly looking like the morning fog rolling in. It reminded me of when I lived in San Francisco and gaze out my big bay windows onto Twin Peaks and watch this rolling mass of white heading my way.

But it was the taste of the award-winning wheel (it won a blue ribbon at the 2005 American Cheese Society Competition) that drew me in. Its soft texture and smooth and creamy flavor are such a delight on the palate. I went out and got some of my own and paired it with wasabi crackers, which was strangely delicious.

Cypress Grove has a whole line of chevre to delight your senses. I also enjoyed the Bermuda Triangle and Pee Wee Pyramid. But one thing I really appreciate about the cheese is that it is made among the statuesque redwoods of Humboldt County, California -- one of the most intense and magical places I've ever visited.

Humboldt Fog is available at Whole Foods as well as iGourmet.

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APRIL 03, 2006
Teastick: A Tea Revolution

The Teastick will make your life easier. The Teastick will have you enjoying tea in a way you never thought possible. The Teastick will make you the envy of friends and co-workers. The Teastick has revolutionized steeping tea.

This clever and well-designed tea infuser is an all-in-one scoop, steeper and spoon. Just scoop some loose leaf tea straight from the bag or tin, drop it into your mug and let it hang on the rim. And it looks cool sitting on your plate whilst enjoying your morning -- or afternoon -- indulgence.

I've been meaning to write about the Teastick for some time now; not sure why it's taken me so long since I use it all the time. I was originally turned on to it a few months ago by my pal Josh Spear, one of the smartest cats in the blogosphere.

My only gripe: post-brewing, a few tea flecks tend to stick in the base of the scoop. But, one quick trip through the dishwasher and it's ready to go again.

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MARCH 23, 2006
Casal di Serra by Umani Ronchi

The next time you go to dinner or pop into a wine shop looking for a California Chardonnay, instead scan the store or wine list for a Verdicchio, an Italian varietal with similar qualities as the chard but so much richer.

One of my favorites, Casal di Serra, comes from Le Marche region along the eastern coastline of Italy on the Adriatic Sea. I'm currently drinking the 2003, a medium-bodied white with a slightly creamy palette and rich tropical and citrus flavors, even some hints of peach and apple.

This is a perfect late spring/early fall wine, but really you can drink it all year 'round.

Umani Ronchi makes a variety of wine and I've had the pleasure of also enjoying the Cumaro, a 100% Montepulciano, as well as the Pelago, a blend of grapes consisting of Cabernet Sauvignon (50%), Montepulciano (40%) and Merlot (10%).

If you're not familiar with Italian wines, grab a copy of Italian Wine for Dummies or Vino Italiano: Regional Wines of Italy.

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Rishi Peach White Organic Tea

With all this talk about peach-flavored iced white tea by Pom going on, I thought I'd add my $0.02 on another similar tea I discovered.

Rishi is a high-end teamaker that cultivates its tea in remote parts of China and raises the leaves in a 100% organic style. They have beautiful packaging and have now even added a travelogue to chronicle their tea forests.

A couple of months ago I happened upon their Peach White Organic Tea at The Grind, one of my favorite coffee houses in Chicago, which offers free Wi-Fi and some of the best cinnamon rugalach I've ever tasted.

This tea, once it's finished steeping, has the most wonderful fresh peach aroma but the taste -- OMG -- how sweet it is! The beautiful thing about this tea -- and all white teas -- is the low caffeine levels but the high antioxidant content. You can sip this all day and not get a crazy buzz.

Rishi's line runs the gamut from Black to Green and White to Chai and more. While it's not cheap -- an ounce costs about $7 and a pound can run you $48, the health benefits are worth the price.


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