Animal Print Wine Tote - BYOB in Style

Right before Charles and I head out to a BYOB there is always a debate as to what bag we should put our dinner wine in. Plastic bags show you don't care about the environment and it just doesn't seem right to show up to a restaurant with your wine in a Walgreen's bag. We could go with one of the hundreds of Whole Foods brown paper bags that are stuffed underneath the sink but they are too big and we have plans to eventually turn them in for our 10 cent refund and to avoid the scrutiny of the checker, "What do you mean you didn't bring your own bag?" I'm always tempted by the glittery holiday gift bags but they're just too cute to give up. And then you have the department store or Charlie Trotter To-Go bags but now you're just showing off.

I've tried the wine specific totes before but following a night of drinking wine sans markup with abandon we inevitably forget to take them home with us. Well, I was at Vino 100 in Mt. Prospect last night and I found this too fabulous to ever leave behind wine purse. I just had to have it and now I can show up to my favorite BYOB in style! The sturdy case comes with a wine opener and is covered with a giraffe pattern printed on an easy to clean plastic material. It fits most bottles as long as they are not too tall or too wide. It was $39.99 before tax.

Vino 100 had other colors and patterns available. If you are interested in purchasing your very own wine purse, contact Jennifer Martinez at Vino 100, 110 S Emerson Street, Mount Prospect, IL. Ph. 847-253-8466. Website:


Juicy Wine Co. BLT: Bacon Lover's Tuesdays

"Yeah but bacon tastes good." These five simple words uttered by the character Vincent Vega in Pulp Fiction perfectly explains our love affair with these strips of smoked meat. It tastes good! You can also do a lot with bacon: candy bars, tempura, cup cakes, air freshener, Christmas tree ornaments, shower curtains...the list goes and on. But what about wine and bacon? Absolutely! I'm a big fan of taking simple, extraordinary foods and matching them with a lofty wine counterpart, e.g. Champagne and potato chips, Malbec and BBQ ribs, Nebbiolo and Italian Beef and yes Pinot Noir with Bacon. This concept of low brow-high brow pairing makes wine what it should be - fun and enjoyable to the point of giddiness. Don't believe me - serve fried chicken and Champagne at your next party. So why does Pinot Noir and bacon work? The sweet and sour cherry profile of Pinot Noir along with baking spice notes from the oak combine to make a perfect foil for the salty, smoky and let's face it fatty flavor of bacon. It tastes good.

Rodney Alex and Aracelli from Juicy Wine Co. know how to have fun with wine and food and they have put together a string of events featuring the favorite foods of our childhood paired with wine. In addition to their Dirty Bird Bubble Bath Brunch on Sundays which features Harold's Fried Chicken and Champagne they have added BLT and Pinot Noir Tuesdays - BLT Sandwiches made with Benton's Smoked Country Bacon with 1/2 price bottles of Pinot Noir. I think even Jules would approve.

Check out the Juicy Wine Co. website for more information.


RedEye - 10 Wines Under $10

Check out my 10 picks under $10 in the Weekend Edition of the Chicago Tribune RedEye or you can access the selections on line.

I'll be writing a bi-weekly column titled "Bottle Service" for the Weekend RedEye starting next Saturday. Be sure to check it out for wine tips, suggestions and more! You can also sign up to receive the weekend edition of RedEye at your doorstep.


Flashy Yet Frugal Friday - 05 Bodegas Castaño Hecula - $12

January in Chicago explains why this city has so many bars. You can't walk five yards against the windchill (a.k.a. The Hawk) without needing a place to duck in and warm up. And let's face it, anything below 30 degrees F is just plain cold, especially for this born and raised Californian. After ten winters in Chicago, I have come to rely on rich and hearty reds to warm my spirit and soul and frozen limbs during these frigid months. Then again this is the beauty of wine, pop a cork and you are instantly transported to your own exotic, warm weather oasis. Who needs South Beach when you have a corkscrew, right? OK - perhaps I'm exaggerating just a bit but you get the idea.

One such winter warmer is the Bodegas Castaño Hecula Monastrell from Yecla, Spain. Yecla, located in the province of Murcia, is bordered by other rising regions such as Alicante, Jumilla, Utiel Requena, Bullas and Valencia. This region as a whole has traditionally been viewed as a source of cheap bulk wine but leaders such as Bodegas Castaño have been hard at work revamping that image. Today, thanks to their effort, if it's Spanish, tastes great and under $15 - it most likely comes from this part of Spain.

Yecla is a small rural town located 1 hour from Alicante which is on the coast and about 60 miles north of Murcia. There is an annual wine festival where wine literally flows through the streets and on to celebrating patrons. Although Yecla is most known for their furniture production (one road in the town features 40 stores alone) the region is quickly earning a reputation for their wines with Bodegas Castaño leading the charge. Monastrell represents over 85% of the plantings, much of it ungrafted and old. Monastrell is also known as Mourvedre in France and is a key ingredient in illustrious French wines such as Chateauneuf-du-Pape and Bandol. Bodegas Castaño is credited as the first to take the grape seriously in Yecla and thanks to them, Yecla Monastrell is becoming a household name in international markets.

The Hecula is 100% non irrigated, old vine Monastrell, 50% aged in tank and 50% aged in French oak. Like many parts of Spain, Yecla is dry, arid and warm and you can sense the heat from the region as the color is dark purple and opaque with ripe flavors of raisins, chocolate, blackberries, figs and star anise. It sounds heavy but it's not and should pair well with a variety of meat or seafood and rice dishes. Maybe for your next book club selection you could read The Hive by Camilo Jose Cela and serve this and tapas at the discussion.

Available at Binny's, Howard's Wine Cellar, Treasure Island (Broadway), Whole Foods, and Sam's Wine and Spirits. The importer is Eric Solomon. Prices will vary depending on retail location.


Ravenswood Wine Dinner at Wildfire Chicago - Jan 20th

If you have resolved to learn more about wine in 2009 then a wine dinner can be just the thing to help you make good on your goal. A wine dinner features multiple wines from a winery or region, dishes paired to each selection and an expert who provides detailed information and discussion throughout the evening. It may sound very studious and snobby but it's not as usually by the second course people begin to loosen up as the wine takes it's effect, the conversation gets more celebratory and by the end of the evening new friends and vows to meet again are made.

If you are a fan of California Zinfandel and "no wimpy wines" in general then this upcoming Ravenswood Winery wine dinner at Wildfire Chicago (a Lettuce Entertain You Restaurant) on January 20th may be of interest to you. Ravenswood representative Kate Shorr joins Wildfire Wine and Spirits Director and my colleague Brad Wermager along with Chefs Moreno Espinoza and Edgar Ojeda to offer the following menu:

Pistachio-Crusted Goat Cheese Crostini
Grilled Lemon Shrimp
currants, pine nuts
Ravenswood Sonoma County Chardonnay ‘05


Pan Seared Swordfish Medallions
red onion & shitake mushroom marmalade, Bing cherry butter sauce
Ravenswood “Zen of Zin” ‘04

Wood Roasted Prime New York Strip
Yukon gold potatoes, braised Brussels sprouts, blue cheese fondue

Ravenswood Teldeschi Zinfandel ‘05


Selection of Artisan Cheese
Ravenswood Vintners Blend Petite Sirah ‘06

Chocolate Raspberry Mousse Cake
Ravenswood Sonoma County Zinfandel ‘06

The entire evening – food, wine, tax and gratuity – is priced at $80.00 a person. For more information or to make a reservation contact Brad Wermager at 773.398.6960. The evening will begin with a reception at 6:30 p.m. followed by dinner at 7:00 p.m. on Tuesday, January 20 at Wildfire - 159 W Erie in Chicago.

For information on other upcoming wine dinners at Wildfire click here