Tuesday, December 18, 2018



Gancia Moscato d'Asti Secco

The Gancia Castle at Canelli

Eduardo Villarino Gancia-Owner of Gancia Castle

Dramatic views of the Langhe

Lunch on the Terrace of the Castle Garden overlooking Canelli with White Truffles and 20 egg yolk pasta

Julia Coney Walters - www.JuliaConey.com and Melissa Ritcher - Look East/ Lifestyle Asia (from Thailand)

by Dwight Casimere

Carlo Gancia is known as the father of Italian sparkling wine. Before he founded the winery 150 years ago, he had spent a few years studying Champagne making methods in Reims France. When he returned to Italy, hey applied the principles he learned to the Moscato grape, native to his area, and he created a new type of sparkling wine which he called Spumante Italiano. The rest, as the cliche goes, is history. Gancia is now the world leader in Italian sparkling wine, producing an array of wines using the rules of the first Italian Classic Method, which was authored by Carlo Gancia. The newest to arrive in the U.S. is Gancia Moscato Secco. White peaches, apricots and orange blossoms are the flavors that immediately greet you with the delicate aroma white jasmine flowers that give it a springlike perfume. It has the delicate bubbles and soft mouthfeel that you would associate with a classic Spumante, with one distinct difference, this sparkler is bone dry. This makes it perfect to carry over from an aperitif with a variety of cheeses, smoked fish and shellfish and an abundance of smoked and cured meats, right through a lavish meal. It was truffle season when I was in Piemonte in early December and the local white truffles were shaved with abandoned on homemade pasta drenched in mountain butter. The main course of local veal in a truffle sauce made for a yummy combination. Save room for dessert and have another bottle of Gancia Moscato d'Asti Secco at the ready for a stupendous finish.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018



by Dwight Casimere

From the land of chocolate and hazelnuts, come some exquisite sparkling  and still wines that you can enjoy throughout the Holiday Season and beyond. Italy's earliest DOCG hosted the first ever Moscato d'Asti Experience, a preview dedicated to the designation of wine under the umbrella of the Consorzio dell'Asti. The event marked the grand opening of a series of releases of new DOCG wines,  including freshly bottled Moscato d'Asti DOCG in both sparkling and still styles and the elegant t Barbera d'Asti/ This unique opportunity to taste these lovely wines just after harvest was organized in cooperation with the Consortia della Barbera d'Asti e vine del Monferrato. Some 100 journalists, bloggers and wine writers were in attendance from the U.S., Russia, China, Singapore, Northern Europe, among others. With a focus on wine and food, lifestyle and tourism, the experience provided an opportunity to gain an indepth understanding of the wines and their terroir in the Langhe-Roero and Monferrato, a UNESCO World Heritage site.  This full immersion experience allowed participants to experience the uniqueness of one of the world's most important wine growing regions.

Everyone knows Asti Spumpante, but few know of  its origin and wide variety. A recent trip to Piemont in northwestern Italy, bordering France and Switzerland is the home of the Consortium for the protection of Typical Moscato d'Asti Spumante,and Asti Spumante wines. Its trademark is the patron saint of Asti, Saint Seconds, shown on horseback, a symbol of the Consortios work to protect the name of the designation and prevent counterfeiting and to maintain control over all aspects of production from the field to the bottle. Obviously, the Consortium is doing its job because Moscasta d'Asti is a sparkling wine without parallel in terms of its distinctive tastes of ripe peaches and gentle aromas of orange blossoms and white flowers, its relatively low acidity and low alcohol content, which makes it perfect to drink almost any time of day and with a variety of foods, including savory, sweet and spicy. That makes Moscato d'Asti perfect for the Holidays. Most people think of Moscato d'Asti as sweet, but the big news this year is that a new designation has been released, Asti Secco (Dry), which is bone dry and aromatic, with a healthy backbone of alcohol (11.5% as opposed to the normal 5% for traditional Asti), which makes it a perfect accompaniment with dinner. It was White Truffle season in Piedmont, and Moscato d'Asti Secco was enjoyed with a homemade pasta made from 20 egg yolks and drenched in mountain butter and covered with shaved white truffles. An assortment of local soft and semi hard cheeses and local hams and salamis and slices of local raw fish, called crudo and a marvelous veal steak tartare served as appetizers. Also new to the wine scene is the introduction of a still Moscato d'Asti. Its not sparkling, but has the same amount of residual sugar as traditional Moscato. Its low in alcohol, but has no bubbles. Its made with cold fermentation technology that allows the wine to keep its lively apricot and herb flavors and orange blossom aroma. Its great with Indian or Thai food and will go nicely with that Holiday bird or ham. Look for Moscato d'Asti at your local wine shop. Its a terrific value and tastes great.

Monday, November 26, 2018




Alice Paillard with her signature Champagnes from Reims-France

Mussels drenched in Escargot Butter is yummy with Dosage Zero

 The "Dirty Burger" with French Fries is the perfect accompaniment to Champagne

Bruno Paillard Dosage Zero
Bruno Paillard Blanc De Blanc Grand Cru and Rose Premiere Cuvee

Alice Paillard is the only one of her four siblings to take up the mantlle of her father Bruno's passion, to create an elegant, dry Champagne that is true in expression to the character of the region. When her father began the Champagne house in 1981 at the age of 27, France was in the throes of an economic sea-change. "That's when the big supermarkets starting coming into France and, at the same time, these big investment groups starting financing the big Champagne houses who could supply them," Alice Paillard opined. The resulting impact was a severe decline in quality, which Bruno Paillard decried. To this day, her remains one of the last seven or eight independent family owned Champagne houses. Fiercely independent, his name appears on every bottle and his style is that of a Champagne that is much drier than what is typical of the region. Others now appear to emulate his lead as they attempt to attract new devotees in the face of growing global competition.

"Bruno Paillard Champagne is our personal interpretation of Champagne. Our Champagnes use exclusively, the first pressing  the purest juice  Pinot Noir (45%), Chardonnay (33%) and Pinot Meunier (22%), part of which (20%) was in barrel for the first fermentation. Our Premiere Cuvee is a very personal interpretation of the whole region. To create it, we select 35 of the 320 crus of champagne. It is the flagship of our style. Through it, we are able to express the specificity of the terroir of the region.

"We don't call our Champagne Non-Vintage," Paillard emphasized. "Ours is Multi-Vintage. We select only the best years to create a Vintage Champagne. So, you might have a bit of '85 or '86 and so on, only the best years are selected to create a different blend for each vintage, concentrating on the personality of each harvest."

One of the most important steps in the process of making Bruno Paillard Champagne is the Disgorgement. "From this day, a process of aging begins that is unique to Champagne," Paillard expressed. " This is where the wine evolves giving it the distinctive color, aromatics and tastes of flowers, fruits and spices. We were the first Maison to print the date of disgorgement on the back of every label, starting in 1983. This was a first for Champagne."

Besides being the first to list a date of disgorgement on its labels, Bruno Paillard accomplished a number of 'firsts' in Champagne. Bruno Paillard was the first to use gyropallettes, a mechanical process that offers precision and consistency, thus guaranteeing superior quality. Every bottle is turned exactly one degree at each rotation. This replaced the ancient technique of hand riddling. Long aging 'on the lees,' the dead yeast, releases flavors and aromas which gives the champagne unparalleled complexity and finesse.

On a recent visit to Chicago, Alice Paillard decided to 'test drive' her Champagnes against the varied menu of The Loyalist, a West Loop contemporary restaurant that takes the concept of the gastropub to new heights.  Chef/owners John and Karen Urie Shields took their combined experience from various high-end kitchens in the Virginia and D.C. area and applied them to their restaurants in Chicago, the upstairs Smyth, which offers a high-end tasting menu, and the  less formal The Loyalist, which gives ordinary tavern food a decidedly decadent twist. The Loyalist's cheeseburger, for example, is a generous hunk of ground meat mixture of short rib, chuck and ground bacon all bathed in American cheese, housemate pickles, onions and onion-infused mayo. Dubbed "The Dirty Burger," its so popular it even has its own Instagram account. The French Fries, cooked and presented in a cast iron skillet, are the perfect combination with Bruno Paillard Champagne.

Starters of an eclair stuffed with foie gras mouse, raw oysters on the half shell, Mussels swimming in Escargot Butter and Cream and a pillowly housemate Ricotta Gnocchi bathed in Toasted Yeast, Parmesan Cream and dusted with Black Truffles rounded out the family style meal for a select group. Clustered at the center of the table were open bottles of Bruno Paillard Dosage Zero, which contains absolutely no residual sugar, Rose Premiere Cuvee and Blanc De Blanc Grand Cru. Because Bruno Paillard Champagnes receive extra aging and are super dry, they are the perfect accompaniment to a wide range of foods, as the Loyalist dinner excursion proved. 

Bruno Paillard Champagnes are available at many of the areas select restaurants. They are also available at discriminating wine shops and beverage depots throughout the Chicagoland area. Bruno Paillard Champagnes are very comfortably priced in the $50-$60 range and will go toe-to-toe with champagnes costing twice as much.For more information, visit champagnebrunopaillard.com

Oysters on the Half Shell and (below) Ricotta Gnocchi with Parmesan Cream and Black Truffles

For dessert; Chocolate Souffle Cake and a Hazelnut Praline Puff with Whipped Cream and Toasty Hickory Nuts made to resemble the Dirty Burger, Extra Stomach not included!



With fellow wine writer, filmmaker and connoisseur Stan West

by Dwight Casimere

Binny's Beverage Depot in Oak Brook was the scene of one of the Chicago area's most opulent Champagne galas. Champagne producers, from France's largest and most prestigious houses, to small "Grand Marque" producers were among the more than 50 types offered for sampling. The annual event, to be duplicated at Binny's throughout the Chicagoland area, brought out oenophiles and Champagne aficionados from far and wide.  Among the many treasures sampled was Dom Perignon 2009 ($159.00 SRP) and Moet and Chandon 2009 ($64.99 SRP). While representing the same vintage years, the two could not be more different. The Dom Perignon is light and somewhat restrained. For those who want to stay away from the sharp mineral overtones found in many dry (read Brut) Champagnes, this may be the one for you if price is no object. Dom delivers with an abundance of ripe citrus on the nose with a smattering of more complex lemon custard, warm apple pie made with tart green apples and hints of honeycomb and ginger. The mineral notes translate into a nice acidity that, combined with the citrus fruit, makes for a nice creamy sensation in the mouth. People tend to say that Dom asks a high price for so little punch. But that's not what this one is about. Take your time and focus on the subtleties. You'll find the experience more than rewarding. Moet and Chandon 2009 is considerably easier on the pocketbook, but no less laden with its own hidden treasures. The first impression is of the string of small, persistent bubbles, known as perlage, which gives the vintage instant eye appeal. Follow that with a walk through an orchard of fresh peaches and apricots and the gentle aroma of budding rose petals and a delicate perfume of light cinnamon with orange flower honey and an aftertaste of warm brioche bread and you have the taste of Moet 2009 in a nutshell. An assiduous blend dominated by Pinot Noir (50%), Chardonnay (36%) and Pinot Meunier (14%) and aged in the cellar for 7 years, this is a testament to the artistry and individuality of the cellar master. For more holiday beverage ideas, visit binnys.com.

Not listed on the list of Champagnes offered for the day was a stupendous Bollnger Rose 2006, a steal at $125. The poster Champagne of old 'shaken not stirred' James Bond in the celebrated Ian Fleming based film series by Producer/Director Cubby Broccoli, this was a stand-alone favorite!

Don't be deceived by its brilliant Salmon pink color, this has an expressive nose that combines lemon citrus, green apples, brioche and toasted almonds with a nice cushy afterburner of wisps of fireside smoke. Creamy and concentrated, it has just the right amount of lingering sweetness that reminds one of the distant scent of a really expensive perfume. Enticing and enjoyable, it is a beautiful expression of Champagne. 

I would be remiss if I did not mention a California Classic, Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs ($34.99), a favorite of the late Julia Child and practically the house Champagne of the late La Francais restaurant in Wheeling, which still holds the mantle to this day, of being the best French-influenced restaurant ever in the Chicagoland area. Chef Roland Liccioni and his wife Mary Beth also created Les Nomades which still exists in an historic brownstone just off Chicago's  Magnificent Mile. One of the final wine dinners held at La Francais  featured the Davis family presenting their superb sparkling wines paired with Liccioni's exquisite cuisine. It was a memorable evening indeed.

Not all of the sparkling wines presented were from Champagne or in the stratosphere as far as budget. There were quite a few delightful sparklers from smaller houses and from regions other than Champagne and countries other than France. A case in point was Desiderio Jeio Prosecco Brut, a modest $13.99. This is an all purpose sparkling wine welcome at any table and with a variety of cuisines. It's great for a casual lunch or dinner party where the fare is decidedly less formal and the intent of the gathering is more about mixing and mingling than focusing on food pairings. There's also a pink version that is a Rose Brut that is equally delicious and just as versatile. 

Jeio is a true Prosecco, from northeastern Italy's famed Veneto region and made primarily with the native Glera grape, formerly called Prosecco. Light and refreshing, it has a bit more residual sugar than you'd find in the sparkling wines of France. This appeals to a great number of people who may be a bit turned off by the dryness and mineral aftertaste of many champagnes. For first time sparking wine drinkers and those who simply want a lighter approach to the day, this hits the spot and at just the right price point. At this price, you can keep a case of two on hand for surprise drop-in guests over the holidays. Serve it with an assortment of cheeses, some slices of prosciutto and a bowl of assorted nuts and they'll think you're a real class act.  For more holiday beverage deals, visit binnys.com.

With wine aficionado Darryl Brooks

Flavio Vietti-Wine Consultant-Winebow Group with Billecart-Salmon Champagne