B-Day Wine & Dine @ Antonio’s Cucina Italiana

We celebrated my wife’s __th birthday @ Antonio’s Cucina Italiana, a little Wribbie and Myrknown, (to me anyway) but Zagat rated restaurant in Boston.  I say little known, because  it is not in the North End – if you know Boston at all you know that Boston’s North End is also referred to as Little Italy.  No, Antonio’s is located on Beacon Hill, actually at the foot of Beacon Hill, literally downhill from the State House, in a neighborhood known more for its Federal-style row houses, than its restaurants.

Farnese Montepulicano d'Abruzzo with appetizers

As a party of 6 with a reservation for 5, our table suited for 4 was cramped – but we had the best one in the house with a view of Cambridge Street and Mass General Hospital.

We started with a round of apetizers:  proscuitto, mozzarella, tomatoes, pickled peppers and mushrooms;  Artichocke Principese and a Cesar Salad.   All delicious and washed down nicely with a generous flow of water and a 2007 Farnese Montepulciano d’Abruzzo.   This heavier side of light bodied wine had the aroma of cherries and crabapples – slightly sour, but not an off-putting farnese-montepulciano_1nose.   The garnet colored wine was fruity on the palate with a touch of spice, and a subtle tartness that provided some balance.  Slick tannins made for a smooth ride down.  This easy going and flowing affordable Italian table wine went nicely with our appetizers and entrees and paired particularly well with cold mozzarella, prosciutto, salami and pickled vegetables.

For the main courses, we had pasta with shrimp and scallops, shrimp cacciatore over linguine and a savory chicken/sausage, vinegar peppers and potatoes dish.  The wine blended pleasantly with the entres like an ingredient.   By the time we ordered dessert the wine was gone, but the food was not – each entre could have fed three!

I have to commend my eldest daughter for selecting the restaurant and making the arrangements.  Not only was the food and company excellent, the bill was reasonable – definitely an affordable night out for a special occasion.

The next time you’re in Boston and have a craving for Italian food, skip the North End and head for the foothills of Beacon Hill and down to Antonio’s.


Turkey Day Wine

Every year around this time I start thinking about which wines to serve with Thanksgiving dinner.  It should be an easy choice – white with foul and fish, red with pork and beef.  Veggies – one or the other depending on the type of sauce and spice.  The Thanksgiving meal at my house can make the wine selection a little tricky with all the side dishes we prepare.   Sides dominate our table.  We usually put out Brussels sprouts, a green bean casserole, cheese grits, black-eyed peas with tomato relish, corn on the cob, fried okra (when I can find frozen breaded okra) asparagus with Hollandaise sauce and smoky collard greens.  The main attraction is stuffing, my mother’s recipe, but we call it dressing because we don’t stuff the bird.   The dressing mixes well with any side and is perfect with cranberry sauce on top of a slice of turkey.  With this spread to consider, I’m in need of a versatile wine or a combination of wines.  Who to turn to?  I typically start with the Internet.

If you google wine+turkey, Pinot Noir will be at the top of many a list as the ideal companion to turkey.  Pinot Noir pairs well with just about any fowl from poultry to game birds and the gamier the flavors the better.   However, a decent budget priced Pinot Noir is hard to find.   If you can find it, try the 2007 Pepperwood Grove Pinot Noir produced by Don Sabastiani and Sons from a Chilean appellation – runs about $9 or try the 2006 Sabastiani Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir which retails for about $15.   If you want a Pinot to impress, try the 2005 Dierberg Pinot Noir from Santa Maria Valley, rated one of the Top 100 Wines of 2008 by WineSpectator.  At #49, and retailing for around $42, it is the top rated Pinot Noir on the list, receiving a score of 92 points.   Mary has a nice post on Cheap Pinot Noir under $20 on the kitchn.com.

For an alernative to Pinot Noir, Senior editor James Molesworth of WineSpectator has a list of Rhone-style Califonia Reds, which includes several wines priced $12 and under.  Laurie Woolever also writing for the WineSpectator posted a list of recommended Whites.  One is a $9 2006 Pepperwood Grove Riesling from Australia, especially nice if you like a liitle sweetness.

So what is the best choice to please all palates (ok, most) that would be versatile enough for Thanksgiving fare?  My choice is Ladybug Red Cuvee VII.  I’m serious.  This 7th Non-Vintage release from the Lolonis Winery in California’s Redwood Valley, retails for $12.99 and features a blend of four grapes:  Zinfandel, Carignane, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.  Fruity and light, like a Nouveau-styled wine with overtones of strawberries and cherry tart, this wine is reminiscent of a young Pinot Noir.  Complex notes of cool mint from the Cabernet and a Zin-like dash of pepper give it a lift.  And smooth tannins compliments of Merlot make it go down easy.  Not overpowering and quite quaffable, this wine should do well with turkey dinner and not detract at all from side dishes and might even elevate Brussel sprouts to new heights!  If you don’t trust my review, read Ed’s take from Harney’s Liquor.  But don’t take our word, audition it yourself before you commit.

So what’s the story behind Ladybug?  The Lolonis Winery places millions of ladybugs on their vines to serve as a natural insecticide.  So in addition to this being a great wine for Thanksgiving, it’s somewhat organic, but not completely – it does contain sulfites.  And the winery uses synthetic cork to guarantee that your bottle won’t be corked.

Spanish Red a Steal of a Deal

This is my first wine review.  Let me say at the outset that I am no wine expert.  I don’t have the most sophisticated palate.  I doubt I can describe a wine intelligibly.   But I do know what I like, “and I like what I know, you know it’s getting better…..”  Are there any Peter Gabriel, Genesis fans out there?  I digress.  Forgive me.  I’ll give this review a whirl.

I always have a few bottles of wine around the house, and never, or rarely pay more than $10 (US) on principle.  I stumbled across a Spanish red at my local wine shop rated 90 points by Robert Parker.  The tasting notes said something about wildflowers, licorice and soft tannins.  I don’t care for licorice, and don’t eat wildflowers, but the combination intrigued me plus wildflowers brought to mind Tom Petty’s album Wildflowers, and the Rolling Stones LP, Flowers,  which had a couple of memorable tunes  – “Ruby Tuesday” and “Mother’s Little Helper”.   Made from 100% mencia grapes, this is a 2005 offering of Flavium from the Bierzo region of Spain.   At $10, this Spanish red is a steal of a deal.

I got home, popped the cork and took a good whiff.  I couldn’t detect any wildflowers, but did catch a hint of menthol.  I took a sip – no swirl and spit, I just swallowed.  Nice!  The coolness of menthol was there, with some licorice and maybe cinnamon spice.  Fruity – jammy even.  I’m not sure what berry exactly – blueberry, cranberry, raspberry; almost Zinfandel like.  Soft tannins.  Smooth.  Long finish.  Wasn’t long til I finished half the bottle.  I liked it enough to buy two more, one for the house and another for a dinner party this weekend.  If you find Flavium at your local wine store, grab a bottle.  Or two.