Monday, April 17, 2017


The Illumination Factory in Chicago's South Loop is transformed into the Loire Valley
Paul Buisse, winemaker, and his Clos Du Galmont Vouvray 2015-$20
A wine enthusiast
The Wines of Domaine Fournier-La Belle Vines Sancere 2015/2016-$27

Sauvion 2016 Vouvray-$13.99, 2015 Muscadcet Sevre et Maine-$12.99 and Sancerre 2016-$32.99

by Dwight Casimere

A welcome sign of spring is the arrival of new releases of the magnificent wines of the Loire Valley, France. Their light, flavorful and refreshing. Perfect for spring, with just the right ripe fruit, melon and apple and pear flavors that are perfect with the soft cheeses, salads,  seafood and charcuterie spreads that make dining al fresco this time of year so much fun. Ever tasted an Anjou pear? Well, this is where those delicious beauties originated, and there are plenty of wines that share its delightfully crisp, unctuous flavor. Love ripe melons or ripe wild strawberries ? There are a number of wines from the Loire valley that embody those luscious flavors. Loire Valley's place in fable and in history is secure. This is where Joan of Arc led French troops to victory in there Hundred Years War and where the French language was born. It is the birthplace of the French Renaissance writer Rabelais. The hillsides are dotted with some of the most magnificent castles to be found in all of France. 

 I had a unique opportunity taste a collection of the new Loire Valley Wine releases while they were on national tour. Tasting sessions where held at The Park near Chelsea Market in New York, at The Illumination Factory in the post-industrial South Loop near Chicago's McCormick Place Convention Center and at The Cheese School in San Francisco's trendy art district on Folsom Street.

The Loire Valley is, in many ways, the heart and soul of France. Its regions are rife with lore and wine legend. The Pays Nantes on the Atlantic coast of Brittany is famous for the city of Nantes where wine has been produced steadily since the Roman era.The region is best known for Muscadet, a derivative of the Melon de Bourgogne grape, which has nothing to do with the more well known Muscat grape, of a similar name. This is the largest white wine appellation of France and is recognized as the ultimate crisp, dry, seaside wine, perfect with oysters, scallops, mussels, lobsters and all other shellfish. The great thing about Loire Valley wines is that they not only taste great and pair well with today's lighter, and more exotic cuisines, they're also easy on the budget, with most under $20, and many in the $10-$15 dollar range. You can splurge at your local wine shop and get a mixed case containing a veritable spring bouquet of flavors and colors. 

Anjou is the ancient Duchy of Anjou, once a seat of wealth and power in France, the region is best known for its sweet wines. Saumur is the picturesque setting of one of the most famous castlles in France, built with the same toffee limestone that underlies this vineyards, giving the wine its unique flavor and acidity. Underground tunnels beneath the castles now serve as the caves and cellars for sparkling wines from the region; the Fines Bulles, the Chenin Blanc-based sparkling wines of the Loire. The region is also famous for Saumur-Champiogny, one of the valley's great red wines made with Cabernet Franc. 

Touraine is known as the "Garden of Francer" where nobility built the many castles that make this one of the prime tourist attractions of France. Many of the chateaus are housed in them. Some of the most famous wines of the Loire are produced in Touraine; Vouvray, made from Chenin Blanc and Chinon and St. Nicolas de Bourgueil, both made from Cabernet Franc. Sauvignon Blanc, Gamay and Malbec also hail form the region and are known for their exceptional quality and competitive price.

The Centre-Loire is in the exact geographical center of France. It is here that grapes have been grown for 2,000 years and is the original home of Sauvignon Blanc and its most famous wine, Sancerre. Pulley-Fume, Reuilly, and Menetour-Salon are lesser known, but no less noteworthy. The region also produces some delicious and colorful rose and red Pinot Noir wines.

Perhaps the best known wines from the Loire are produced by Barton and Gustier which was on hand with its AOC Sancerre 2015 white wine made from Sauvignon Blanc ($15.99) The AOC 2015 Vouvray and 2015 AOC Rose Anjou (both $10.99) were pleasant and flavorful and offered some of the best value for a very reasonable price.

Another of my favorites were the wines of Sauvian, similarly budget priced with Saurian AOC Vouvray 2016, a white Chenin Blanc, got for a mere $13.99 and AOC Muscadet Sevre et Maine, a sweet white wine made from Melon de Bourgogne, for a mere $12.99. The more pricey Saurian Sancerre 2016 tops out at a hefty $32.99, but its luscious aromas of white flowers and white peaches and flavored with notes of  tarragon, ripe tangerines and crisp Anjou pears makes it worth every penny. Don't let the  designation of the Melon as a 'sweet wine'  fool you, as the wine has enough balance, structure and acidity to stand up to lighter foods, such as mild soft cheeses, fruit salads, and spicy Indian and Asian fare, for an interesting flavor combination. Try some tender Bay Scallops poached in butter with a splash of the wine thrown in right at the end for a unique taste thrill!. The AOC Rose d'Anjou ($12.99) had a beautiful blush pink color and flavors of ripe melon and ripe red berries. A blend of Grolleau and Gamay, this was a perfectly balanced wine that best shows why Rose is the wine of spring.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017


 Austerity Winemaker Steven Decosta with Dwight Casimere (l)
 Ada Executive Chef Joanna Stachon prepares Fried Artichoke with Goat Cheese appetizers

Story and photos by Dwight Casimere
With the preeminence of wines from Napa and Sonoma Counties in California, there's a common misconception that wines from other growing regions in the sunshine state are not as noteworthy. The popularity of northern California wines has brought about, not only a good deal of notoriety, but hefty price tags as well. Enter the folks at Austerity wines who prove that delicious, food-friendly California wines can be had at very affordable prices. Try a California Chardonnay priced at $13.99, for example. 

To prove their point, the winery has embarked on an ambitious national campaign. Austerity Wines of California is partnering with FeedFeed, a unique online community that connects home cooks, chefs and wine and food bloggers reflecting the latest kitchen trends, to host a series of Chef and Winemaking dinners in Chicago, New York and Los Angeles. The dinners all featured high-quality, locally sourced ingredients prepared by innovative local chefs, all paired with Austerity Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Cabernet, all priced at $13.99  at you local wine shop.
The Chicago edition of the FeedFeed/Austerity Wine Dinner featured Chef Joanna Stachon of Ada St. 1664 American Bistro in Chicago. A native of Chicago's South Side, Chef Stachon cut her culinary teeth as a chef at Chicago's Greek diners and as a butcher at Artisanal and Publican Quality Meats following graduation from the culinary school at the Illinois Institute of Art. She joined the Ada St. team immediately after its opening in March 2012 and rose from Sous Chef to Executive Chef after two years under Executive Chef Zoe Schor. 
Austerity Winemaker Steven Decosta led the discussion during a dinner featuring Italian Burrata with mint and walnut pesto, Spring Caesar Salad, Diver Scallops with minted peas and charred scallion puree, all paired with Austerity Chardonnay ($16.97); a Second Course of Denver Lamb Ribs with cardamom and orange glaze, Forbidden Black Rice with Grilled Quail and Green Beans with spicy chermoula and preserved lemon, all paired with Austerity Pinot Noir ($13.99); a Third Course of Parisienne Gnocchi with fav beans, lemon, shallots and parmigiana and Prime Strip Loin with brown butter and balsamic reduction, all paired with Austerity Pinot Noir ($13.99). The Grand Finale was Chocolate Ganache to be spread over toasted baguette, brushed with Tuscan olive oil and sea salt, paired with Austerity Cabernet.
The wine and food pairings were perfectly matched. Winemaker Steven Decosta explained that each of the wines were made with idea of creating well-balanced wines that reflected the terroir of their unique growing regions, while preserving the fruit characteristics of the wine without going overboard with oak aging or malolactic fermentation. The results of his winemaking philosophy were admirable.
The Chardonnay for example, is brimming with flavors of golden apples, marshmallows, and a hint of creme brûlée'.  Stainless steel fermentation; 6 months barrel aging in 100% American oak, guarantee the vitality and complexity of the wine.
 The kitchen at Ada St. with Diver Scallops sauté

 Ada St. 1664 interiors

 Austerity Pinot Noir with Italian Burrata and Spring Caesar Salad
 A beautiful face in the crowd
 Denver Lamb Ribs with Austerity Pinot Noir
 Parisienne Gnocchi
 Diver Scallops with minted peas and scallion puree topped with cilantro garnish
 Grilled cauliflower
 Diver Scallops with Austerity Chardonnal
Austerity Pinot Noir with Green Beans and smoke tomatoes
 Prime Strip Loin in brown butter and balsamic reduction
 The Grand Finale "AFTER" with Chocolate Ganache and toasted baguette in tuscan oil and sea salt