This is a $10 Chilean 60/40 blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. It is a better wine than many I’ve tried. I don’t pretend to have a sophisticated nose when it comes to wine. But I know what I don’t like. This particular wine was prepared in what seems to be a workmanlike manner. It has some fruit, but not too much, it is not sweet, it has some oak, and tannins and, at first, a dash of alcohol on the finish. That dissipated as the wine got some air. Over the next several minutes the wine got fruitier and the tannins increased. I think that it might take some experimentation to find out exactly how long to let this aerate, but I think that it probably has a very nice sweet spot. I know that some reviews of this wine complain about a Chilean “bell pepper” taste, but I have no idea what that means. i certainly didn’t taste anything remotely like bell peppers. For a $10 bottle of wine it did the job and avoided any real problems.
Monthly Archives: November 2010
Most everyone who haunts Iowa City, be it on a game day or otherwise, is probably familiar with Lou Henri’s at 630 Iowa Avenue. To begin with, they make great coffee, which isn’t as unusual an achievement today as it used to be. But good coffee is a solid foundation upon which to build a successful day. Second, they know how to cook breakfast. Eggs done any way you want, french toast properly battered, and great service as well. I think that the pictures of the boxing girls on the walls are perhaps a reminder that you better tip well. And I did.
Lou Henri is just east of the main businses district by about four blocks. There is usually lots of parking on adjacent streets.
I am headed out with the camera to Grinnell, Mt. Vernon, and Iowa City. I can’t say that I’ve spent much time in Grinnell. It is just close enough to warrant a visit but far enough that I never get there. And it is just far enough off the beaten track that I don’t stop by. The rainy weather ought to work well for HDR photography, so I’ll see how that goes. I’ll be stopping by Sutliff Cider Company south of Lisbon and Mt. Vernon, Iowa. My spouse fell in love with English hard cider while visiting that country last year and is eager to see how this fares.
So, the work day is done and its time to grab a drink downtown. Or maybe its been a rough day and you just need to throw back some shots to calm down. Or, perhaps you just closed a huge deal and its time to drink some 30 year single malt to celebrate. It used to be that if you worked downtown and you wanted a drink that you headed down to Winston’s.
However, for some unkown reason Winston’s closed. I don’t know how a place can close its doors when you need a reservation just to get a table for lunch. Sure, it never was packed for dinner, but as a classic fern bar that was not unexpected. Seriously, how can you not make money selling booze? I know that Winston’s sold a lot of booze. There were a lot of well known people associated with Winston’s over the years, including Michael LaValle, who I still believe is one of the best chefs in Iowa despite hiding his skills from the great unwashed at the Embassy Club for all of these years, and George Formaro, who churned out some mean grinders and pizzas in that tiny broom closet that they call a kitchen. A fixture for at least a decade, on and off, was bartender Bobby Mohr – both with and without the ponytail. Oh, I nearly forgot, before his dad started to loosen his reigns on the Ruan empire another fixture for a solid ten years at least, perched on the east end of the bar was John Ruan III, or “the third” as people liked to call him.
I knew that something was wrong when the wait staff had to work the bar and I had to instruct them on how to mix a Manhattan. The only benefit to this was that I had spied a half-empty bottle of Templeton Rye on the top shelf and told her to use it. Things at Winston’s really went down hill when I asked for a single malt scotch whisky and the never seen before and never saw since bartender somehow got me a 30 year single malt that was $30 a pour. Since I was buying for everyone, that was an expensive evening. While it was one of the best single malts I’d ever had, his only excuse was, well, you ordered a Scotch from Scotland! I can testify that there are plenty of whisky’s from Scotland that don’t cost $150 a bottle.
So, what to do when you want a drink downtown Des Moines now? Is there any place to go?
Here is the recipe for a Manhattan:
2 oz. Rye Whiskey (Templeton Rye works well)
1/2 oz. sweet vermouth
2-3 dashes of Angostura bitters
1 marachino cherry (crushed)
Well, first, I manage to get around to more than a few restaurants in the Des Moines area. So, I’ll post some “reviews” of them. I hesitate to call them reviews as I can be a bit irrational about what I think makes a good restaurant. But I know what I like. Here are my favorites, along with some duds:
Mexican: Most Often Visited: Plaza Mexico; Best: Dos Rios (during the week only – service on weekends is iffy); Best Tamales: Tamale Industry.
Continental: Most Often Visited: Centro; Best: Lucca or Cafe di Scala; Best buzz: Centro; Best service: Django.
Pizza: Best: Bagnidi Lucca
American: Most Often Visited: Mojo’s on 86th; Best; Mojo’s on 86th. Honorable Mention: Flying Mango; Most overrated: Trostel’s Greenbriar (wait staff fights are bad).
Asian: Best: Used to be Cafe Su (I’ve not tried the new iteration on Ingersoll);
Mojos on 86th
Last Sunday we found ourselves with more time than things to do, so we drove to the new Trader Joe’s next the the Jordan Creek super mall in West Des Moines, Iowa The only other Trader Joe’s I’d visited was in Santa Fe, New Mexico. On that trip we loaded up the minivan with boxes of cheap wine and made the trip back to Iowa. For reasons unrelated to Trader Joe’s or the quality (or lack thereof) of the wine, most of it ended up getting poured down the drain a few months later when we suffered a failure of the wine cellar’s temperature control. Heating wine to 87 degrees for two weeks is not good for wine. Anyway, we loaded up with a more modest collection of mostly cheaper wines to try out. I’ll post some reviews as we w ork our way through the bottles. But I have to say that I don’t know if we will get to try the 3 buck chuck chardonnay as it may get used up in cooking.
I’m not entirely sure what niche it is that Trader Joe’s is going for. The music that was being played while we walked around grabbing bottles is clearly aimed at people in their late ’40s or early ’50s, and that demographic was fairly well represented. But there was also a large contingent of couples in their ’20s. The place seems to offer both approachable sophistication (how many of us can afford to spend $30 on a bottle of wine every night — that’s a $11,000 per year habit if you do the math — and plain cheapness (“gourmet” frozen pizzas?). It is a niche that works for me.
Here are some good links for wine at Trader Joe’s:
December 2010 update:
I went back to Trader Joe’s the other day because we had about an hour to kill before a show in that area. I went back to the wine section to see if anything had changed. To begin with, they had about a semi-trailer’s worth of three-buck chuck stacked up to the ceiling.
The 2008 Clos du Bois North Coast Pinot Noir is a very nice wine for the price. Sure, you can pay twice as much for a bit more complexity, and more or less tannin, oak, legs, earthiness, acidity or whatever it is that you favor. But for a medium Pinot Noir this is a solid performer. Keep in mind that I do not consider myself a wine connoisseur. I like wine that complements the meal and does not insist on taking center stage. I find that any wine that justifies a price over $30 is like a sharp-elbowed sister cutting through a crowd. It gets there quickly and makes its point but come on, where is the grace? Even if I lack a refined nose for wine, I do know what I do and don’t like, and this is a wine that I like. We started drinking a glass with dinner, pumpkin risotto with chicken, and just kept drinking until the bottle was empty. Wines costing two and three times as much don’t get the bottle drained like this one. I can recommend it if you are just looking for a solid wine that has no faults but no overwhelming virtues.
January 2011 Update: I’ve gone through about a half-dozen bottles now and I have to say that I thoroughly enjoy this wine. It lacks a lot of oak and tannins, but it is delicious. I’ve noticed that the price is starting to climb, so get your soon. Also, I bought some slightly cheaper 2006 and I have to say that the 2008 is better. Given another year or so in the bottle, it might mature a bit, but the tannins and alcohol in the 2006 suggest that the berry-fruit taste in the 2008 may get lost over time.
Flavor and nose: solid berry taste, steeped in mild tannins
Aftertaste: Mild berry finish, with oak and vanilla-chocolate.
Purchased at Hy-Vee for about $14 on sale. Update: Price is now about $18 at Hy-Vee.
In 2010 I was alerted that there was a new rum circulating in the bars. It was as dark as ink, which gave rise, or maybe it was the other way around, to its reference to the giant squid, the Kraken. After a few months of searching, it hit the local market and I found some at the local Hy-Vee and sure enough it was a very dark rum. The bottle has an antiqued label and two round handles, completing the antique look. It has a strong hit of molasses, as opposed to the chocolate overtone of, say, a Sailor Jerry. It might be the caramel coloring that gives it that smell. Anyway, it is a very sippable rum. Some other internet sites suggest that it is aimed at the Captain Morgan crowd, but I see it as targeted more toward Gosling’s Black Seal Rum. Kraken Rum is reportedly sourced from Trinidad and Tobago. The various websites are hilarious and well done, keeping with an antique “Jules Verne” style of typeface and artwork. I’ve always thought that rum doesn’t get the attention that it deserves, so try some rum in your next mixed drink. If you have any mixes that you want to suggest, let me know and if they pan out, I’ll post it with credits. I looked at the usual list of mixes for rum and none struck me as suitable for Kraken (or other spiced rum drinks for that matter). I do plan on a full rum shootout later this summer as I plan on touring a few rum distilleries way down south, so stay tuned.
April 2011 Update: I see that Kraken Rum is getting a lot of advertising lately. Apparently, this began on March 8th according to the manufacturer. The company that owns the brand also owns some other lesser-known spirits, including El Zarco Tequila, Agavero tequila, Azul Tequila, hanger 1 Vodka, 1800 Tequila, and Matusalem Rum — “the rebel rum.”
I recently drove through Humeston, Iowa on a weekend jaunt to revisit some old family haunts. Humeston is in Wayne County, Iowa. it is not a bustling town. But southern Iowans are very friendly. With our out of town license plate the first question we were greeted with was whether we were lost — a natural assumption I suppose. The second person I met asked me if I wanted to buy their Chevy roadster. The first store we stopped in was an antique store. We usually don’t shop for antiques, but this appeared to be the only business on the east side of the town. We were told that the town had a great cafe. We stopped by and had an excellent lunch. My wife and I had packed a lunch for the trip because the last time I ate at a restaurant in Wayne County (an even smaller town to the east) I ended up with food poisoning. But after stepping in I could tell that this was a very different sort of cafe. The ingredients were first-rate and fresh and the service was very good. So, if you happen to be driving through Humeston, Iowa, don’t pack a lunch. Stop by the Grassroots Gallery.
Lovers of Templeton Rye doubtless know by now that December 7th marks the day when it should be widely available. Aficionados of this fantastic rye have long waited for this day. For years, the shelves have rarely had a single bottle for sale. When word gets out that a shipment has arrived at some particular location, the new bottles are snatched up before the first mote of dust can settle on the cap. Time will tell if Templeton Rye will just become another regional rye whiskey once the hoopla dies down after it is more generally available. But regardless, I won’t have be so stingy on using Templeton Rye for Manhattan Cocktails either — and the local drinking establishments might actually be able to mix me a Templeton Rye-based Manhattan as well. Of course, few such places can mix a half-decent Manhattan, but that will be the topic of a different posting.
December 8, 2010 Update: Well, its December 8th and the stores have already run out of Templeton Rye. Supposedly, this is the fault of the Iowa Alcoholic Beverage Division, which is holding back on delivering its supplies so it does not run out half way through the year. Well, I have to say that given the lack of Templeton Rye in the bars I’ve experienced some other Rye Whiskeys and they have, honestly, left me wondering how much of this Templeton Rye craze is just that — a craze. Of course it is a craze that other small batch distillers can only wish for. I’ll try some blind taste tests of some of the other high-grade rye whiskeys out there to find out.