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Sunday, January 27, 2008

Avenues photo essay

Your friends at The Wineauxs not only love wine, but we're also huge fans of food - once a year we take in an absurdly priced meal to celebrate our wedding anniversary. While it's in May, I had heard that the chef at Avenues (Graham Elliot Bowles) is leaving in April - so we decided to celebrate a bit early this year.

One of the unique things about Avenues is the Kitchen Bar - it looks like a typical bar but instead of a bartender and alcohol - it's the kitchen. You get to see the four chefs in action - you are right there and get to chat with them.

This is mainly a photo essay - the pictures speak for themselves. Not a single dish was a "miss" - in fact, not one dish was short of outstanding. We had a six course meal - we only had one of the same thing, the other five courses were different.

Here we go:

1. Three breads and three butters - regular, truffled, and Parmesan.

2. Amuse bouche – popcorn / cauliflower cream

3. Deconstructed BLT / Roquefort / Brioche / Ranch

4. Caviar / Champagne / Caper / Chive

5. Venison tartare / Juniper / Parsley / Lingonberry

6. Scallop / Pumpkin / Maple / Allspice

7. Risotto / Apple / Bacon / Cheddar

8. Pheasant / Celeriac / Quince / Mustard

9. Ahi / Matsutake / Chestnut / Hijiki

10. Deconstructed Beef Stroganoff / Mushroom / Spaetzle / Creme

11. Lamb / Pomegranate / Couscous

12. Cake / Apricot / Mango / Orange

13. Chocolate / Banana / Oats

A phenomenal meal to be sure. While the head chef is leaving in April, the restaurant will be taken over by Curtis Duffy - the chef de cuisine from Alinea - and my understanding is the chefs and staff will remain the same - we'll definitely be back after the Bowles era.

Note: I was referring to a slightly different menu to get the names of the dishes - should the website post the newer menu (which listed more information than just the ingredients) I'll update.

We've had some absurdly good meals - I've been to Avenues twice and both meals are tied for the best - better than Topolobampo, better than Moto, and better than Trotter's. If you're coming to Chicago and want to blow a week's pay on one mind blowing meal, this is the place.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

2006 Mollydooker The Boxer Shiraz

Here we are with another Mollydooker bottle – last year the 2005 sold out within days around here, but the 2006 is still available at most places in these parts for about $20. I read about this wine a while back and found this interesting tidbit on their website called the Mollydooker Shake: basically open the bottle, pour out half a glass, recap it, and shake shake shake.

Our first notes are before the shake:

A huge punch of alcohol on the nose, with licorice and cherry.

This is an enormous wine – big fruit, big spice, big sugar, and big heat. The high alcohol content (16%) will most likely turn some people off, but every so often this is a fun wine to indulge in. I'm getting blueberry and cherry, ultra ripe plum, a mix of spices, but almost no tannins.

Not much on the finish, though I do seem to be getting some oak notes – it's mainly heat though.

Now – I recapped the bottle, did the shake, and tried again.

Red and black licorice as well as some herbal notes on the nose, but interestingly – the punch of alcohol has disappeared.

Still huge, but the alcohol has subsided. Oak is co\ming through, as well as a fair amount of spice – pepper and clove – the fruit is still mostly blueberry and cherry. It's far more peppery after the shake.

The finish is still tame – a bit of heat, though not nearly as harsh, and some nice black pepper is now predominant.

Before the shake, I probably would've hesitated recommending this – but I feel the shake and a good four hours of air really helped this one calm down a bit and brought up some depth, and dare I say finesse? Either way, this is an outstanding value.

2005 Rudini Pachino Nero D'Avola Sicilia

We received this as a gift. I've had happy to receive it as we've had some very good luck with this varietal.

Earth, funk, berry, and even a bit of slate on the nose.

Fruity with almost no tannin – berries mainly with some cherry. There's enough acid to bring it into balance, but there's really nothing that jumps out.

Not much on the finish really – cherry and and a bit of oak comes through.

Not a complex wine, but an enjoyable one. I liked this simply because it's so balanced – it's not a fruit bomb by any means, there's no overpowering oak, it's not too acidic, nor is it too flabby - it's just a a nice, easy drinking wine that's great for day to day drinking.

2004 Domaine Bertagna Bourgogne Hautes Côtes de Nuits Les Dames Huguettes

I grabbed this for about $20. This was extremely tart on first pour so I let it decant for about two hours.

Green olives and forest floor on the nose.

Funky and earthy while quite acidic. Some cherry and blackberry – tart, dark berries.. Plenty of barnyard and dirt. Some spicy notes and wood mainly coming through as cedar.

Earth and pine on the finish.

Not bad at all. This is a finicky region and a finicky vintage, but I think overall it's a decent bottle.

2004 Domaine du Petit Barbaras Côtes du Rhône-Villages

Another bargain from the clearance sale. Unfortunately I don't recall what I paid, but I know the retail was $13 and I paid closer to $6.

The nose on this one is tough....I don't know. If I had to guess I'd say cherry, but cherry is a common descriptor here. We'll just say it's weak.

Smooth yet funky. A bit of oak, spice, funk, cherry, and a nice punch of acid with some blueberry as well. Not bad at all and a reasonable amount of depth even for the $13.

Dirt comes through on the finish, not much fruit, and it fades rapidly.'s cheap, it's French, and there's nothing to complain about. The nose and finish are weak, but the palate pushes it into the recommendable range.

2001 Markham Petite Sirah

This was $13 – marked down from $25. Even though it's a bit old, I figured it wouldn't hurt to try.

Licorice and earth on the nose.

Smooth tannins but bold and fruity - plum, ripe blackberry, licorice, and some sweet oak on the palate. Lots of dark fruit all around but very nicely balanced.

Cherry and black licorice on the finish which lingers for a solid amount of time – over a minute.

No arguments here for $13, but I don't know about the $25 retail price. By all means, it's a good bottle of wine, but there's not much of a wow factor.

2005 Korbel Natural Sparkling Wine

I've seen this bottle around, it's a few dollars more expensive than regular Korbel and is actually a vintage bottle....on sale it was $12 and I felt like it may be worth a gamble.

I get some sort of peach jam on the nose...candied peaches perhaps.

The bubbles keep flowing even 45 minutes after the pour – impressive. I'm getting stone fruit and tart apple – not much yeast and no toast. There's a syrupy sweetness as well.

The finish lingers for some time and brings some interesting floral and citrus notes, as well as more of that sweetened peach that presented on the nose.

Big fat meh. This is certainly more interesting than regular Korbel, though I'm not sure that translates into “better.” It's a simple, sweet – though not overpoweringly so – and an easy quaff. To be fair, most $12 sparkling wine isn't much better.

2005 Fattoria della Vitae Chianti Colli Senesi

I grabbed this one on sale and figured since I never met a Chianti I didn't like it would be worth a shot. It was under $10, but I don't recall much more than that.

No nose at first but it opened a bit to chocolate and orange.

Wow – just wow. This is one of the strangest bottles I've ever had.

At first pour – I would've said this is a fairly typical Chianti except it had a bit less acid than I'd expect.

After about 45 minutes, I felt this wine collapsed – th e acid all but disappeared, there wasn't much fruit except for some blueberry, no oak, no tannin, though I did get some earth – a strange structureless fruity, yet earthy, mess.

Here I am, 90 minutes in, and my tune is changing yet again. The acid is still milder than I'd expect for a Chianti. Blueberry and cherry is coming through as well as some nice chocolaty and earthy notes. It's still a bit too soft for me, almost watery, but it's not bad.

Some citrus notes are on the finish but it fades.

I think I need to get another bottle of this before I make up my mind. At the very least, this bottle was interesting. For under ten bucks, it's worth a gamble.

2006 Saisons des Vins Le Printemps Rose

This was heavily discounted from $13 to $5 – not a bad markdown. I view rose as a legitimate wine and go through the proper “Rite” or should I say “Sacre” with it.

I can't place the nose – I'm thinking grapefruit zest.

Quite dry, somewhat tannic, with raspberry, stone fruit, cinnamon, and spice plus a hit of alcohol. I'd almost guess this has seen oak. Certainly a unique rose.

Cinnamon and a lingering tannic feel on the finish.

I'm on the fence about this one. While I find it to be a tad harsh, it's not bad and actually quite interesting. For $5 it's tough to argue with, and even if I paid full price I don't know if I'd complain much as it brings some new aspects to rosé I haven't previously encountered.

Monday, January 21, 2008

2006 Alexander Valley Vineyards Wetzel Family Estate Pinot Noir

I had a tough time deciding what wine to review for our 300th post. I decided to go with one of my recent bargains which ran $15 – but it was on sale, marked down from $25.

Berries, coffee, and earth on the nose.

The tannins are mild, the fruit is bold, and the funky notes are excellent – a solid bottle for the price. Earth, funk, chocolate, coffee, and a solid amount of cola bring a smile to my face. Cherry, vanilla, strawberry, and oak as well.

Earthy notes, maybe some chocolate, but mainly cherry and oak on the finish.

An absurd value at $15 – I actually went back to the wine shop to get more of this but they were sold out. Even at the regular price I'd grab this again and recommend it heartily. Solid all around.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

2005 Wine Cube Cabernet Sauvignon

We enjoyed Chateau Lhorens so much, I figured I'd grab a different box. This was $14 and is three liter box – meaning four bottles – that's about $3.50 a bottle.

Cherry, sugar, and alcohol on the nose.

Big and fruity. Cherry, cinnamon, and a bit of oak. The tannins are present, but fairly mild. Not too much depth, but I think there's enough balance here to make this acceptable.

The finish brings out some blackberry and the alcohol comes through as well..

I can see why this is popular – a fruity wine, but enough backbone to not be too flabby - but it's not exciting or interesting. Of course, what did I expect for under four bucks a bottle? This is on par with the other cheap stuff out there and ultimately a bit less expensive. Take that for what it is. If I was having a lot of non-wine drinking people over I think this would be a crowd pleaser.

2006 Weber Liebfraumilch Rheinhessen

This was $6 at Trader Joe's – I grabbed it because I don't think we've ever had Liebfraumilch.

Tart apples on the nose.

The palate is mostly stone fruit – peaches and apricot with a little bit of spice and floral notes. Very soft – low alcohol, smooth, a bit sweet, but and some acid that it's borderline drinkable. Sort of like a cheap, sweet Gewurz. This had a very peculiar musky taste on first pour, but all traces blew off after about twenty minutes.

The finish is all peach pie filling.

I'm glad I tried it, but life's too short for me to try it again.

Friday, January 18, 2008

2006 Bitch Grenache

How can I pass this label and name up? This was $10 at the local wine shop.

Strawberry and Twizzlers on the nose.

Fruity with a bit of burn. Sharp acid – almost too sharp, the alcohol also burns to a near uncomfortable level. The palate is mostly strawberries and a bit of earth and burnt coffee.

More of those burnt coffee notes linger on the finish.

If I had to compare this to anything I'd say it's like a Beaujolais on steroids. It's not bad, but somewhat atypical of a New World Grenache - as long as you know that, it's not a bad bottle. Too good to send to your ex on Valentine's Day and not good enough to buy your current sweetheart who's "taken the word back."

2003 de Marques Gelida Cava Brut Exclusive Reserva

This was in the half price section at World Market – marked down to $6. For that price, I'll try just about anything.

Bread on the nose.

Yeast, bread, and minerals. I honestly don't get a whole lot of fruit in this one - other than perhaps some unripe pear - though I do get a touch of sugar. The sweetness does remind me a bit of that Prosecco like quality I can't place my finger on, other than it's somewhat artificial tasting.

Mineral notes linger on the finish.

This isn't bad, but it is strange. I don't recall ever having a wine which I had such a hard time tasting any fruit. For $6, I won't argue, but I'd also rather grab Rotari.

2007 Domaine Dupeuble Pere et Fils Beaujolais Nouveau

This is one of the more expensive BN's out there - $15, but thanks to the clearance sale it only ran me $5.

Raspberry, cherry, earth, and a fair amount of banana on the nose.

If you're the type who smirks and thinks us wine fans cannot possibly “taste” dirt in a wine – I invite you to buy a bottle of this. This is a dirty bottle. Banana, berry, earth, surprisingly bold tannins, and enough zing to give it a solid balance.

No finish – if there is it fades in seconds.

I'd be curious to see if a higher quality BN exists – if so, I have yet to try it. Now – that being said – for what it is, it's good, but BN has an inherent ceiling in terms of quality.

A word of warning – this bottle has a LOT of sediment. If you want to try this one, keep it upright for at least a day or two and pour it very slowly (or decant it).

Thursday, January 17, 2008

2007 Chateau Cambon Beaujolais Nouveau

Another one that was originally $11 (or so) and knocked down to $5.

A funky nose. Grape stems and earth..

Ouch. Grape stem – really, the bulk of the flavor here tastes like you ate a bunch of grapes and then put the leftover stem and started chewing. Not pleasant. I'm getting touches of herbs – oregano and mint – and perhaps some plum.

Rotten grape. Barnyard, and more stem on the finish. There's an acidic harshness that's really off putting.

Well, I'm glad it was only $5. The rest of the bottle is going down the drain.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

2007 Bouchard Ainé et Fils Beaujolais Nouveau

Every couple of months one of the local wine/liquor shops has a big clearance sale – I tend to stock up when they do. There's never anything “wrong” with the wine, they usually are making room for new vintages or are just getting rid of bottles that haven't moved much. Part of the most recent sale was that every BN was cut to $4.99. I grabbed three different bottles, all regularly priced $11. I'll be cracking open the other two bottles in the next few days.

This has that typical funky berry smell that Beaujolais normally has.

Mild all around – acidic, but not sharply so – and just easily drinkable. Raspberry and cherry with some earthy notes.

Chocolate, earth, and raspberry on the finish.

BN is meant to be an easy quaff and this does the job – for $5 I'm not about to complain. Solid for what it is, but if you're not a fan, you won't be sold.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

2003 Elvis Presley The King Cabernet Sauvignon

In celebration of Elvis Presley's birthday, I present you with The King's Cabernet. Of course, Elvis didn't drink so it's an odd product to make, but who am I to judge? This was $12 at the local wine shop.

Cherry, oak, and chocolate on the nose.

Simple and fruity - all cherry - and with mild tannins. A tad sweet, but there's some oak and acid to balance it out a bit.

The finish is sweet, once again mostly cherry, but there's I'm getting some herbal notes as well.

It's $12 and I'm betting the Elvis estate gets half that. It's not bad, but for the price you can get two bottles of a cheap big name Australian Cab.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

2006 Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc

Kim Crawford is a highly respected producer which we've trid at tastings and thoroughly enjoyed. I grabbed a bottle of this for $14.

A huge nose of grass and tropical fruit – pineapple and passionfruit.

Nice and crisp – bold notes of citrus and tropical fruits. Pineapple, papaya, passionfruit, and grapefruit. Slate and minerals with a touch of sweetness – perhaps some limeade – and even a taste of grass. I'm a bit surprised at just how “large” this wine is – it begs for food, I'd go with some sort of spicy Asian or Mexican faire.

Lime and grapefruit on the finish. Crisp acid leaves the mouth watering.

This was highly rated all around and certainly deserves to be – powerful, complex, and amazingly, under $15. Perhaps the finest QPR we've ever had. Outstanding and strongly recommended.

N/V Prosecco di Valdobbiadene

This was a Christmas gift from our neighbors – neighbors we didn't give a gift to and now I feel sort of weird about it. Regardless, a very nice gesture. The bottle runs about $10.

Bread on the nose.

A very soft wine, mild bubbles, with mainly unripe tropical fruit – I can't help but taste papaya - and white bread on the palate....I'm also detecting a bit of walnut.

Tropical notes on the finish linger for some time.

Almost every Prosecco we've had has had a strange quality to it. They seem to leave a mildly unpleasant, strange, almost honey like coating on the mouth. Sadly, this one is no different and it's really the big dealbreaker I have with the wine.

2005 Rheingau Edition Maximilian Pinot Noir

Germany isn't really well known for its red wine – so when I saw this one for $6 at Trader Joe's I thought it would be interesting to try.

Licorice on the nose.

Sweet....unpleasantly, rotten raspberry, tobacco, all mixed with sugar.

Cherry comes out on the finish and some funky notes linger for quite some time.

If a sweet red wine appeals to you then perhaps, I can't even finish a glass. The bottle does state “Medium-dry” so on the one hand I should've known better, on the other I can say I've had a Pinot Noir from Deutschland and for academic purposes that's good enough.

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

N/V Laurent Perrier Brut Rose

For New Year's I figured I'd grab something different – a brut rose Champagne. This one goes for about $60.

Bread and apple on the nose.

Toast, yeast, strawberry, some nuttiness, and crisp red apple on the palate. The bubbles last for a long time in the class – considering we're used to lower end stuff, it's impressive seeing a stream 45 minutes after pouring.

Poached pear comes through on the finish and lingers for quite some time.

Not bad, but little wow factor. Enjoyable, but for $60 I was hoping for a little more.

2001 Château Greysac Bordeaux

I had a gift certificate at a wine shop and thought I'd grab a Bordeaux with a bit of age on it, but didn't want to drop too much of it – this ran me about $16.

Oak, tobacco, and cigar box on the nose.

Tobacco on the palate – some oak, cedar, a bit of cherry, some licorice, bell pepper, and leather.

More of that cigar and cedar on the finish, with some green notes, and at the very end tomato juice.

Bordeaux, especially a decent one with a bit of age, is an odd, somewhat acquired taste. Personally, I enjoy it, and while I haven't experienced any of the truly high end Bordeaux, this seems to have some of the standard qualities of the region for a reasonable price.

2004 Avalon California Cabernet Sauvignon

We had the 2005 Avalon a while back and it was great. If I'm not mistaken the 2005 is $12 and the 2004 is $8 so I grabbed a bottle of the older one.

Oak and blueberry on the nose.

Smooth tannins, a touch of sweetness, cherry, blackberry, a slight bit of oak – nothing deep, but not bad at all.

Some oak notes come through as well as a bit of strawberry.

Outstanding QPR – if my memory serves me right, the 2005 is a step better and more complex, but this is tough to argue with.

2005 St. Julian Winery Braganini Reserve Pinot Noir

We received this as a Christmas gift from my parents - St. Julian is a winery in southwest Michigan which my mom visited a while back. I only know of St Julian from their sweet wines so this will be interesting.

Earth on the nose mainly.

Very nice – raspberry, a bit of vanilla, oak, spices, and solid acid which brings it all together.

Oak and earth linger on the finish with some carob and spicy notes.

An all around solid wine. In time we'll probably be visiting some Michigan wineries and this will certainly be on the list.

2004 Sea Smoke Southing Pinot Noir

I paid somewhere around $50 for this a while back, but Sea Smoke sells out quickly so it'll probably go for more than double that right now.

Cherry, raspberry, and blackboard chalk on the nose.

I'd almost call this jammy – lots of fruit, cherry, berries, plum. Rich, dark chocolate notes are present as well as well as a bit of root beer.

The finish reminds me of candied cherry.

So this is where things get complicated with the overall assessment. This is a damn good bottle of wine, fine all around, and I can't say I have any gripe. That being said, my socks aren't knocked off as they have been in the past by other bottles. While I enjoy this, until my income doubles, I don't see rushing out to grab this again.

N/V Jeanmaire Champagne Cuvée Brut

This real Champagne was at Trader Joe's for either $18.99 or $19.99 – I figured it would be worth a shot.

I don't get a lot on the nose – maybe some key lime.

Yeast, lime, slate, lime, and even some mandarin orange on the palate. Nice crisp acid, just the slightest bit of sweetness, but not enough to complain about. This is a solid bottle.

A sugary feeling is left on the finish, but some citric acid – lime mainly - linger.

This is, I believe, the cheapest actual “Champagne” I've seen in recent months. It's one I'll buy again cheerfully – nice balance and quite a bit going on. Positively unbeatable at the price. It's not exceedingly deep or anything along those lines, but it's overall quite nice and enjoyable. For the price, I cannot complain.