Chivito - The National Dish of Uruguay


If I have not convinced you of how great Uruguay is by now then let me introduce you to their national dish, a sandwich called a chivito. Legend and Wikipedia has it the word chivito can be translated as "little goat" or "baby goat". The reason for this name is because one night, during a blackout, an Argentine patron who was visiting a restaurant in Uruguay ordered baby goat meat like the one normally served in her region. But since the restaurant owner did not have this specialty, he served her toasted bread with ham, sliced filet mignon, seasoned it with different ingredients and the chivito was born! Today, you can find chivito stands throughout Uruguay and each will offer their own version. A typical chivito will include toasted bread, mayonnaise, filet mignon, tomatoes, mozarella cheese, bacon, ham, lettuce, olives, onions, a fried egg on top and french fries for a garnish. IT WILL CHANGE YOUR LIFE!

Eat one of these and you will certainly need to spend extra time in the gym. As a suggestion, you may want to check out this old school workout video from Greer Childers. I unfortunately remember her from my childhood as my mother used to buy all kinds of workout tapes and exercise gadgets in the 80's in order to keep slim, glamorous and fit like her Dynasty hero Alexis Morrell Carrington Colby Dexter Rowan. Being a bit of a pudgy child she would often make me exercise along side with her. Oh, there were hours spent infront of the TV grape-vining, hopping and plies-ing with Jane Fonda and Denise Austin. Here's another fond childhood memory: one time, I was playing around with my mother's Gut Buster (remember that?) and it slipped from my feet and hit me in the head. It's no surprise, I still hate exercising to this day but unfortunately it's a necessary evil in this business, especially if you want to include things like chivitos in your diet.


Cocktail Time with Peter Vestinos

Peter Vestinos, besides being an all around fantastic and charming guy, is the award winning resident mixologist at Sepia Restaurant in Chicago. Peter got his start in wine, working as a sommelier at The Tasting Room on Randolph. His background and experience in wine is one of the main reasons why I love Peter's cocktails as they are always perfectly balanced without being too sweet, tart or boozy. In other words, you can drink several in a row without feeling the burn! He is known for his seasonal approach to cocktails and often blurs the line between kitchen and bar as he makes his own bitters, infused liquors and liqueurs. Cocktail competitions have become a serious business in the US and Peter has become a formidable fixture on the circuit, most recently placing first in a national search for Bombay Sapphire's most inspired bartender. When he is not busy shaking up a cocktail, you can watch Peter perform with his three man sketch comedy group 37 Foxtrot or read his frequent contributions in Time Out Chicago. Despite his busy schedule, he was kind enough to share a holiday cocktail recipe with us.

Flippin' Holidays

A flip is a class of drinks similar to an egg nog but doesn't have any cream. This is Peter's modern take on a flip made with walnut liqueur.

1 oz Walnut Liqueur, such as Nux Alpina Walnut Liqueur
1 oz dark rum (Peter uses 15 year El Dorado Dark Rum from Guyana)
1/2 oz Benedictine
3/4 oz simple syrup
1/4 oz Cynar (an italian amaro made from artichokes)
1 whole egg

*If you can't find Nux Alpina try Nocello

Add all to cocktail shaker and shake without ice for 15 seconds, add ice and shake for another fifteen. Strain into rocks glass and grate nutmeg over the top.

The walnut liqueur plays center stage in this drink while the rum is a great dark foil for the walnut. The Benedictine adds spice while the sugar rounds out the rough edges. The Egg provides texture and holds everything together. The bitterness of the Cynar comes right at the finish and clears the palate. It cuts through everything and allows you to take the next sip without feeling you are drinking something sickly sweet.


Sandra Lee's Cocktail Christmas Tree

Wow! I'm absolutely speechless. How do you even come up with an idea like this? Next year, I'm going to decorate our holiday tree with corks, wine openers, screw caps and empty wine bottles.


Pablo Fallabrino - The Rock Star of Uruguay

What I love most about being in the wine business is you get to meet some of the most fascinating and thought provoking people in the world. Meeting Pablo Fallabrino from Vinedo de Los Vientos Winery in Uruguay reminded me exactly of why I do what I do. If anyone is capable of launching Uruguay onto the fine wine scene, Pablo is the one to do it. His Alcyone is quite possibly one of the best dessert wines I have ever had in my life! It tastes exactly like Hershey's chocolate kisses!! Pablo is the son of Italian immigrants and he inherited the winery after the passing of his father in 1995. This good natured surfer, Bob Marley loving and philosophy quoting man can best be described as the Randall Graham or Didier Dagueneau of Uruguay. Pablo confessed to me he often goes through the old family wine making logs and books for wine making inspiration. He does not over think the wine making process though, he just runs with his instincts, takes chances and does what naturally comes to him. It's a total zen approach but then again, what else would you expect from a surfing Rastafarian? Pablo runs the winery with his lovely wife, Marianna who is a fabulous chef and operates the winery kitchen.

Pablo and Marianna's winery is located in Atlantida, about a 30 minute drive from Montevideo. When we visited, he was making repairs to the winery which was damaged a few months earlier by heavy winds, a huge problem in this region and the source of the wineries' name. He was very calm about the whole thing and indicated the doors were just installed the day before while most of the roof was still missing. He took us through the vineyards which were planted with everything from Gewurztraminer, Chardonnay, Tannat and Cabernet Sauvignon. I never thought I would see Gewurztraminer planted next to Cabernet Sauvignon, but hey there is a first time for everything.

I also fell in love with their dog, Escobar. In case you are wondering what is wrong with Escobar, this otherwise healthy 13 year old pup has a basketball sized tumor on his back. Pablo said the tumor is benign but with Escobar's age, it would be too life risking to operate. Escobar is an extremely sweet dog and he definitely runs the show on the property. They have another cute dog named Puccini.

Pablo's wines are unique in style and reflect the his genuine, fun loving nature. Here are my tasting notes:

Estival White - an extremely intriguing blend of Gewurztraminer, Chardonnay and Moscato Bianco. Dry but floral with flavors of apricots, peaches and pears. Great wine for Asian or Indian food.

Tannat - very well structured yet drinkable. Reminds me of a hearty Malbec.

Eola Gran Reserva - blend of Tannat and Cabernet Sauvignon is named after the Greek God of the Winds. Dark red plums, with raisins, figs and spice.

Angel's Cuvee Blanc de Bianco - soft blend of Chardonnay, Viognier and Trebbiano. Ripe pears, peaches and slight jasmine floral note.

Angel's Cuvee Ripasso Tannat - Pablo and his team go through the vineyards and twist 8 rows worth of Tannat grapes bunches one by one in order to turn them into raisins. The Ripasso process is often used in the Veneto region of Italy where the pressed skins of Amarone wines are added to regular Valpolicella in order to add a slight raisiny, baby Amarone like character. Here the method helps tame Tannat's excessive richness. Flavors of figs, chocolate, star anise and spice.

Alcyone Dessert Wine - Pablo combines a method used to make Barolo Chinato, an aromatized wine with the method used to make Marsala. Tastes exactly like Hershey's Chocolate kisses. Quite possibly one of the best dessert wines I have ever had.

Who needs chocolate when you have Alycone?

Pablo's wines are brought into the US by T. Edward Wines and are distributed in Chicago by Pure Wine Company. I was able to locate the Tannat at Binny's for $16. Of course, I am already working on getting my hands on some Alcyone!


The Wines of Uruguay

The Republica Oriental del Uruguay is a small country located between it's larger neighbors, Argentina to the south and west and Brazil to the north. Uruguay was was once a Spanish colony and it was here in Uruguay that the Spanish first introduced the grapevine to South America. However, it was the Italian and Basque immigrants who followed, that started to establish the first commercial vineyards and wineries about 100 years ago. Uruguay's most famous wine is made from the Tannat grape, the origins of which can be found in the South West of France in the appellations of Cahors and Madiran. Tannat is to Uruguay what Malbec is to Argentina. Wines made from Tannat are powerfully colored, extremely rich, well structured and heavy on tannins - perfect for pairing with grass fed Uruguayan beef. There are 20,000 acres of land under vine planted to 72% red grapes, most of which is Tannat. The other main red grapes are Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Chardonnay is the most planted white grape followed closely by Sauvignon Blanc. There are 270 family owned wineries running boutique, small-time operations as the average estate holding is around 12 acres. Ninety million liters are produced every year, most of which gets consumed by Uruguayans who drink on average 32 liters per year. Only 3% of Uruguayan wines are exported, mostly to the US market.

Tannat Grape

I had an opportunity to visit with a number of wineries during my short two day visit. Uruguayans are extremely kind, generous and warm hearted people. The winery owners were very excited to have a US audience as they are eager to get the word out about the wines of Uruguay. We all know my love for Argentina but Uruguay has one significant advantage over Argentina and that is the close proximity of their vineyards and wineries to the capital of Montevideo, many of which are located within a half hours drive. To get to Mendoza from Buenos Aires, you would need to drive for 10 hours or take a plane. The combination of the beauty of Uruguay and the wine country is a multi-million dollar tourism based industry just waiting to happen. Meeting with the winemakers and visiting their vineyards made me think of what it must have been like to travel to San Francisco and visit Napa Valley wineries in the 60's and 70's. It's hard to believe now but California was not always known and respected for their wines. They were able to launch themselves onto the international wine scene with the now infamous Paris Tasting in 1976 when wines from Napa Valley beat highly regarded French wines in a blind tasting. They called it the shot that was heard around the world. Uruguay reminds me in many ways of a young California and I sincerely believe they too will have their shot at finding their rightful place amongst the greatest wine producing regions of the world.

Here my tasting notes

Juanico Winery
- Juanico is by far the largest winery in Uruguay and is 100% family owned by the Deicas family. They make a variety of wines under different labels but my favorites were the Don Pascual Tannat Roble and Familia Deicas Preludio. The Juanico Estate is a great winery to visit as they have a first class operation that caters to group visits of all sizes.

Carlos Pizzorno Winery - a small boutique operation started in 1910 and now run by the very handsome couple, Carlos Pizzorno and Dra. Ana Laura Rodriguez. Dra. Ana and I bonded as she is a gastroenterologist as is my father-in-law. The Pizzorno wines are very modern in style. I particularly enjoyed the fresh and zippy Don Prospero Sauvignon Blanc, the rich and spicy Pizzorno Tinto Riserva, a blend of Tannat, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot and the well structured Pizzorno Tannat Reserve. Carlos' Pinot Noir, although young, shows great promise.

Bouza Winery - This is another boutique run, family owned operation. The Monte Vide Eu was definitely one of my favorite wines that I tasted. The blend of Tannat, Merlot and Tempranillo was very silky, soft and extremely delicious.

Bodegas Carrau - Established in 1782, Bodegas Carrau is one of the oldest wineries in Uruguay. The estate is now run by the extremely intelligent and knowledgeable, Dr. Francisco Carrau who proved to be a great source of information regarding the Uruguayan wine industry. The wine making style is more traditional in nature with less wood and more expression of fruit. I was blown away by the nebbiolo which is released once every 10 years or so. It is the best nebbiolo I have had outside of examples from Italy.

Dr. Francisco M. Carrau sharing his knowledge of Uruguayan wines

- this winery is represented by a mother and daughter team. They were eager to receive feedback about their wines and how the US market may view the style. I was happy to inform them their Don Nelson Ariano Special Reserve would certainly have no problem with holding it's own against the big guns from California. This was a very extracted wine, full of rich tannins supported by American oak - very a modern style that would certainly be appreciated by US consumers.

Castillo Viejo Winery - What I remember most about this winery were two things: the Hasparren Espumoso Brut and the very tasty El Preciado Red. I'm always happy to see bubbles and the El Preciado was indeed a precious blend of Cab Franc, Merlot and Tannat. The packaging was really cool too!

Reinaldo De Lucca Winery - This winery was particularly interesting as they experiment with Rhone grapes like Marsanne and Syrah. The Tannat Syrah Reserva was very interesting as I never thought I would be able to taste a blend of these two varietals. I also enjoyed the Rio Colorado, a raisiny and elegant blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Tannat and Merlot.

Santa Rosa Winery - Santa Rosa has been in business for over 100 years. They produce an impressive line of sparkling wines. General Manager Daniel Mutio is another exuberant spokesperson for the wines of Uruguay and he is looking forward to sharing the wines of his country with the rest of the world. For the still red wines, The Gran Reserva Juan Bautista Passadore and the Museo Tannat were my favorites from them.

Vinos Pisano - Pisano is one of Uruguay's most highly regarded and award winning wineries. It is owned and operated by the extremely amusing, charming and well mustached, Daniel Pisano. He had me in stitches with his stories about his Italian grandfather. Daniel is a great ambassador for Uruguayan wines and his winemaking skills is a clear indicator why. I pretty much enjoyed everything he makes but his Rio de los Pajaros Torrontes and Tannat and Reserve Arretxea were out of control delicious.

Me with my new Uruguayan buddies, Daniel Mutio and Daniel Pisano