HORCHATA If your jaw is wired shut, Nuevo Léon’s horchata, the popular milky rice drink sweetened with sugar and dusted with cinnamon, is the perfect straw-friendly fix. 1515 W. 18th St.; 312-421-1517 $1.75 AGUA FRESCA Typically, agua fresca, a mix of water and fruit available at almost every taquería, tastes like diluted Kool-Aid. The one at La Lagartija Taquería is a juicy elixir rife with sweet watermelon cubes and plump strawberry hunks. 132 S. Ashland Ave.; 312-733-7772 $2.25 MARGARITA A good margarita starts with 100 percent blue agave tequila and real lime juice. By that standard, the margarita at Salud Tequila Lounge, made with peppery pear-noted Herradura Silver, agave syrup, and fresh-squeezed lime is great. 1471 N. Milwaukee Ave.; 773-235-5577 $8 CHAMPURRADO Mexican hot chocolate often means thin reconstituted powder mix. Rick Bayless’s sandwich emporium, Xoco, serves a thick brew of champurrado (bean-to-cup chocolate) made with fresh-roasted ground cacao beans that display bright acidity and nuanced coffeelike flavors. 449 N. Clark St.; 312-334-3688 $2.50 to $4.25 MICHELADA Start with beer and mix in any number of items, such as salt, hot sauce, or honey, and you’ve got yourself a hot cocktail. Maiz’s tart rum, lime, and Mexican beer mix, a.k.a.…
There may be no better time in our history to hit the bottle. Certainly we are not lacking for motivation, what with all the layoffs, pay reductions, bankruptcies and mortgage adjustments. But, more importantly, even with thinner wallets, because of the over-production of wine, the growth in negociants (folks who often capitalize on that over-production by buying great wines for a song and selling them for a comparably low price at retail), and increases in manufacturing efficiencies, we’ve never had greater opportunity to buy relatively low-priced wine.
It’s hard to resist the allure of Champagne that’s been poured all over some hip hop groupie’s booty. But, if you find yourself in a wine store contemplating a bottle of Cristal this weekend, I got a better bottle that’ll save you some Benjamins.
Some of you may remember I interviewed Cameron Hughes about a year and a half ago. Hughes owns no vineyards, makes no wine, but he has an inside connection to some of the best wineries that do. The way the model works is many top wineries produce wine that either doesn’t fit in to their profile or they make too much of a wine. That’s where Hughes steps in. He buys up the excess lots and then markets them under his own label and sells them direct on his website or through Costco. Because Hughes bypasses traditional middle men and marketing fees, he’s able to offer incredible wines for a value.
This last week I’ve been drinking more than Charles Bukowski and Orson Welles at an Arizona State Keg Party. Speaking of which, I found some pretty funny (actually sad) drunken outtakes of the eminent Shakespearian actor and celebrated director slinging Paul Masson plonk. But I digress. I’ve been drinking a lot of wine and I came across a couple of bottles this week worth mentioning… 2005 Muller Catoir Haardter Burgergarten Riesling Spatlese (Pfalz) Forget Bogey/Bacall, Brad and Angelina, Jay and Silent Bob, the front end citrusy sweetness and backend acidity on this bottle along with my Thai chili and limey crispy onion topped banana blossom salad from Thalia on Monday was the perfect match. One of the best German rieslings I’ve had in a while. You’ll find it at Sam’s. 2007 Kim Crawford Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc (Marlborough) One sniff of this crisp number is like getting a swirly in a toilet filled with ruby red grapefruit juice. The fruity splash here is atypical of your normally arid Savvy Blanc. At only like $16 bucks a bottle at Binny’s, if your palate agrees with me or not, it ain’t no big thang….nice sipper to wash down some Harold’s fried chicken.
Terry Theise, the Lon Chaney of wine Terry Theise is a man of a thousand faces. Well, at last five or six. In the introduction to his 2007 German wine catalog, the legendary importer’s Fu Manchu-ed visage and hands are engaged in a range of poses including rapture, self-strangulation, a Humbert Humbert-style leer, mock-contemplation and a potential gang sign (Austrian Riesling represent.) Theise’s pictorial is accompanied by a “War and Peace”-length manifesto punctuated with quotes from poets and philosophers. Some of his personal tenets: “Harmony is more important than intensity”; “The whole of any wine must always be more than the sum of its parts”; “Soul is more important than anything, and soul is expressed as a trinity of family, soil and artisanality.”
While most men of my generation rocked Kurt Cobain and “Pulp Fiction” posters in their college dorm rooms, I had a vintage poster of a Grace Kelly Taittinger champagne ad mounted above my bed at the University of Michigan. At that time, my cinematic interests were mostly of the “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure” genre, but on the advice of a stoner/aspiring screenwriter I worked with, I started checking out the Hitchcock canon in my free time.
I had this 2005 Carmenere from Concha y Toro the other night, and went back and bought five bottles this morning at $6.99 a pop at Trader Joes (also available at Sams for a buck more locally here in Chicago). It’s honestly one of the best wines I’ve tasted this year. It reminds me of a $50 Bordeaux. It’s basically way more Salma Hayek (big, spicy, and deep) than it is Penelope Cruz (whispy thin and fruity).
I started drinking in elementary school. My tipple of choice was a Beaujolais Nouveau. Unlike most young drinkers, I was lucky enough to avoid the Wild Irish Rose, Mad Dog 20/20, and Boone’s farm, though I would revisit these malted fruity classics in college. It is not that I was a sullen young drunkard, but that my father, an amateur wine buff, allowed my brother and I a small sampling, usually during Thanksgiving dinner. We would trade our taste impressions across the table. At the ripe age of 10, unaware of phrases like “tannic”, “leathery, or “hint of cassis”, I would usually declare the wine to be “bad grape juice”.