Easier to drink than spell: Txakolina from Txakoli

Come on, this arguably has the most fun ever to say in terms of wines/wine regions. Say it with me, it’s like “Chalk-o-leena.” What usually ships to the States is a frizzante (lightly sparkling) version. At its essence its a light, fresh, clean bottle of white that slaps a smile on your face whether you want it or not.

What gets drunk domestically is another story. Light, fresh and clean, yes. But on Spanish soil they often vinify it still and drink it as such. I had the chance to taste both today, and I’d personally gravitate to this style, as it’s slightly more serious.


Beldui Txakolina “Xiribil” 2013
The first thing I smell is like that pocket-warmed, slightly waxy piece of bubblegum that came in a pack of Topps baseball cards. There’s no sweetness on the palate, though that bubblegum note comes through, mingling with lemony citrus tones that last on the palate a ridiculously long time for such a simple wine. The fizz is fun and this wine will make many a patio cameo this summer, no doubt.

Beldui Txakolina 2013
Very citrusy here too, mostly lemongrass and some subtle mandarine. It’s bright and mineral-driven on the palate. It’s a little more texturally rich than the Xiribil and the acidity is bright, keeping the balance in check. It’s begging for food, and I think baked clams or some Manchego would do it proud.

Simple and easy, very crowd-pleasey. Find a bottle and throw it back!




Some Italian Vino I’ve been Sipping this Week

This time of year is no different from others. I’m thinking of VinItaly and sad that it’s the first time I’ve missed this fair in 4 years. But I can always drum up a little Italy love in my own wine glass as I think back to some of these wineries that I’ve had the incredibly good fortune to visit.

Stylistically, this time of year, I want my reds to bring texture and lightness but not too much weight. And I want freshness and brightness in the whites, but an element of complexity and nothing too fruity. Here’s what I’m working with this week…

From Italy’s northeast, in the Veneto region:

Remo Farina Bianco di Custoza 2011. This is a bright, crisp white wine made with a blend of the five regional white grapes of the region. Orchard fruit from ripe yellow apple to creamy peach, this is a crowd pleasing white wine that has an incredible capacity to serve both as a cocktail wine or would work well with poultry, shellfish or spring vegetable dishes.

From Alto Adige, in Italy’s Dolomite mountains.

eti terlan b

Cantina Terlano Terlaner Classico

Cantina Terlano “Terlaner Classico” 2012. Rich and textural, this is a multi-faceted blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon, and Pinot Bianco. Each of these grapes makes its way into their own bottlings at Cantina Terlano. This proprietary blend of the three has been a perpetual favorite wine of mine since it first hit my lips around 2007. Fruit notes are ripe apple and sutle pear, and it bears a very rich mouthfeel without the weight of having been thumped with oak. A pretty phenomenal bottle of wine for this “classic” range of wines from Terlano. Almost everybody falls in love with this wine, including people who often fancy themselves exclusive red wine drinkersPaolo_LangheBianco_bottle


From the northwest, in the Piedmont region, famed for the rich Barolo wines:

Paolo Scavino Langhe Bianco DOC 2012. This wine wine glistens with fresh acidity and international styling. It makes perfect sense when you think of the people who live in this region, farmers at heart, but with an incredible reverence for the land and blessed with some of the most incredible culinary riches in the world, including earthy and decadent truffles and chingale, or wild boar. This region is also famed for Barolo wines, beautiful and elegant wines made in either a modern or more traditional style, but these are wines that are quite contemplative and require years to mature. So, often the people here reach for something easy and refreshing, like this Langhe bianco, which is a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay. Delicious and citrus-toned with an incredible backbone of minerality and a brave streak of acidity.

From the heart of Tuscany, three wines from Italy’s own Sangiovese:

Ali Sangiovese 2012 is a bottle of wine that holds it’s own on a weeknight with easygoing counterparts like pizza or burgers. The fruit shines, with bright red fruit like cranberry and Bing cherry and tannins are soft and medium-bodied. Great value and easy to like!

Alteo Chianti DOCG 2012 is pleasant and fruity with more elements of earth and ripe fruit, like blackberry and black cherry. Tannins are smooth but add great texture. This would be a great accompaniment to grilled red meats, grilled vegetables or pasta in a tomato-based sauce.

Bramosia Chianti Classico DOCG 2011 is a wine that wears its pedigree well and stikes a great balance between tannin and acidity, offering a complexity on the palate that well belies its low price tag. It shows nice earthy notes of forest floor, but is clean and bright and is definitely in the camp of modern style Chiantis. The oak barrel aging adds nice spice notes, like nutmeg and cinnamon and just a hint of vanilla. The fruit is mature and reminiscent of black cherry and plums.

Back to the Veneto for this red:
Remo Farina Valpolicella Ripasso Classico Superiore 2012. Here’s a wine that seems to blow everybody away! Made from grapes that have been partially dried prior to pressing, the natural sweetness of the grapes is enhanced and the concentration is richer. The juice is passed over the dried grape skins one more time (ripasso = re-passed) to extract even more of the baked fruit concentration and the resulting wine is a velvety combination of rich baked fruit and beautiful brown spices like cardamom, cinnamon and also brings forth elements of cigar box and cedar. Tannins are very fine and the wine is medium in weight, perfect for a spring/summer red. Made up of a blend of Corvina, Rondinella, and Molinara.

A little gratitude for a favorite restaurant- the New Scenic Café

Feeling incredibly blessed that I got to share wine with the folks at the New Scenic Café just north of Duluth today. It’s one of my favorite restaurants in the world, for too many reasons to mention. Lake Superior crashing away at the shore 100′ away tops the list, as does unpretentious service and consistently remarkable food.

Just basking in gratitude for a moment…life is good.


Life-changing Brussels sprout salad. Yes, it’s that amazing.

If you’re into genuine hospitality, art, beauty, divine food and fine wine, do yourself the favor of making the venture up the majestic shore of Lake Superior to this sweet spot.  I’ll see ya there.

april scenic

Yours truly sneaking across the road from the Scenic to snap a pic of the icy lake, earlier this year.

Sushi, Meet your Match.

In Minnesota, we like to open conversations by talking about the weather. For better or worse it’s what we do, and at present there is ample opportunity to discuss just how crappy and disappointing ours has been. However, I’m not about to ramble on about that. Or rant about the fact that I’ve only sat on one restaurant patio so far this year, shivering and too proud to make for the warm indoor dining room because HECK, the sun was shining on that fine day and the fact that the patio was open was reason enough for me and my pasty, pale skin to clamor for a spot in the sun. This is Minnesota and sometimes the weather sucks. Sometimes it sucks an entire season right out of existence.

Nonetheless, I’m determined to remain positive and turn my thoughts to summer. That leads to daydreaming about the pleasure of eating long stretched out meals of sushi.  Which leads to thinking about which of my favorite wines to drink during the aforementioned meals. We all know that sake and shochu are classic pairings for Japanese fare like sushi, but wine can also be an amazing pairing. It can, in fact, rocket the entire culinary tango of eating and drinking into blissful nirvana.

Today I experienced an exaltation of sorts with a most unique wine, a wine I knew would be the perfect vessel for this sushi and wine marriage. It was a dry version, two of them actually, of Furmint from Hungary.  You might be familiar with Furmint as the grape that is used in the famous Tokaj dessert wines, and indeed it’s the same grape from the same region, but in this application it’s made into a couple of beautiful dry white wines.


The wines at hand are brought to the US through an importer called Boutique Wines and their tagline is “Love Over Money.” Never met the folks but I like their philosophy. The wines are known by their proprietary names, “Evolúció” and “Affinitás”.


Evolúció is made of 100% Furmint and has a gorgeous textural richness to accompany the delicate floral aromas and less-than-subtle tangerine aromas. It’s hard to say at 13% abv that it’s off-dry, but it definitely doesn’t strike the palate as being bone dry either. The acidity is soft, which makes it such a lovely accompaniment to sashimi, as there’s not a lot of fat that needs to be ripped through. The wine itself kind of reminds me of the way your hands smell after you’ve been handling clementines, with notes of honeysuckle, lilac and white peach also present on the palate.


Affinitás is based on Furmint, making up 85% of the blend, and the other 15% comes from Yellow Muscat, a grape I saw in play quite a bit while I was living in Croatia. At first sip the Affinitás was quiet on the palate, then it stretched out and woke up. It is a little more wound up than the Evolúció, with brighter acidity, more complexity and some stony minerality to its character. I gotta admit, the opening aromas and flavors are of crushed baby aspirin, and in case that comes off as a negative comment, I’d like to set the record straight: I was very excited about this. I’m not a closet pill popper, and I guess if I was this would be proof that I’m a pretty lame amateur, but I love me some baby aspirin with it’s subtle orange-iness and chalky finish. My lunch date concurred that a) baby aspirin is delicious and b) this wine is also delicious and a brilliant combination with the more complex futomaki rolls and their various flavor components. The Affinitás delivers textural breadth as well, but more in the realm of broad, sweeping acidity. More citrus aromas evolved on the palate as well as the wine opened up, primarily to the orangey citrus fruits, but also key lime and lemon. Chalky minerality makes waves through the palate too. It’s an incredibly alluring wine with plenty of complexity, in fact much more than you would expect for the price.

Both of the wines we tasted today were from the 2011 vintage, and are drinking beautifully. The fine folks at Masu Sushi and Robata in Northeast were kind enough to let me explore this burgeoning obsession idea of pairing these wines with sushi, bringing in my own bottles while they indeed have their own lovely drink program, including some dynamite cocktails. If you’re reading from the Minneapolis area, get yourself over there for an awesome meal or their rockstar happy hour.

If you’re inclined to try these lovely wines, try tracking them down at your favorite local retailer. They should be able to order them even if they don’t carry them at present. They’re brand new to the MN market. The Evolúció is a freakin steal at $10.99 and so is the Affinitás at $12.99. You’ll regret picking up anything less than 6 bottles of each.

Some of the shops in the Twin Cities that carry one or both of these wines:

Lowertown Wine and Spirits

The Wine Thief, St. Paul

Tournament Liquor, Blaine

MT Liquor, Mahtomedi

Surly Cynic Belgian Waffles*


I had just moved back to Minnesota, and slowly began the process of unpacking. I was digging through boxes of stuff that’d been living in storage when I pulled out my oil splattered Belgian waffle maker. I immediately tossed it into the garage sale pile.


But it needed to be scrubbed. So, I did that, to the tune of about 25 minutes. Then it hit me- I just wasted 25 minutes of my life to earn a buck, literally (that was my proposed price tag). Silly. At this point, and it did become a pride issue at this point, I saved it from it’s fate as a secondhand appliance thrown haphazardly into the back of somebody’s beat up minivan, I resurrected it to its full glory. And since then I’ve been in waffle production, almost every morning. It’s daily use has now become a ritual, and my kiddos give me a totally peeved look when the waffle house is not in production just to let me know that cereal and toast are no longer acceptable.


I first developed a curiosity, then a mild obsession with the idea that the my basic Belgian waffle recipe had room for improvement (gourmet-ifying). So I thought of beer, and naturally Belgian beers to go with the Belgian theme, duh. Well, I ended up whipping up this recipe on a beautiful autumn day for my friends at St. Paul’s Wine Thief, and then it turned into a full on appetizer bar which accompanied the afternoon’s wine tasting. The reviews came back very positive, and I hope you’ll like it too if you decide to give it a try.  Tweak it to your own specs. I have about a hundred more ideas about how to do them next time. The variations get my little wheels spinnin.


With the help of the nifty bearded gents at The Ale Jail, we settled on Minnesota’s own Surly Brewing Co. Cynic, which is a tasty little number made in a Belgian-style Saison. A Saison is a beer brewed with orange peel and coriander, in case you’re wondering.


This makes a savory waffle, a fun little idea for an hors d‘oeuvre or in our case, afternoon noshing. You could sweeten them up as a brunchy treat with a tablespoon of sugar mixed into the dry ingredients, and finish with with sweet toppings, like berries and whip.


Surly Cynic Beer Waffles




2 1/4 cup all-purpose flour


1 tsp salt


4 tsp baking powder


1 1/4 tsp baking soda


5 Tbsp olive oil


3/4 cup warm water


1 cup of Surly Cynic beer, at room temperature


2 large eggs


Roasted, salted pumpkin seeds




Sea salt, big flaky style


In a large mixing bowl whisk together the dry ingredients: flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda.


In a separate medium-sized mixing bowl mix the olive oil with, water, and beer.  Add in the eggs and whisk together. It will foam up so take cfile://localhost/Users/AprilStar77/Desktop/A843E8lCcAA-ARC-1.jpg-large.jpegare that your bowl is large enough.


Make a well in the dry ingredients and fold in the wet ingredients. Whisk until smooth.


Heat your Belgian waffle maker and grease lightly with olive oil.  Pour 1/4 cup into the waffle maker, and heat for a couple minutes or until your preferred level of goldeny deliciousness.


Finish with a dollop of Mascarpone, a light dusting of high quality sea salt and a sprinkling of roasted pumpkin seeds.


Next time I want to whip some pumpkin puree into the Mascarpone for a dash of flavor, and put it into a squirty bottle and drizzle it over the waffle so that it’s distributed onto every tasty bite. Deliciousness.

*This blog post is my own, but was originally published at Roasted Passion, Fermented Love


White Zin… Once in a Blue Moon?

White Zin for the people.

This post is in honor of cousin extraordinaire Aimee Jean.  She’s a connoisseur of adult beverages herself (just don’t ask her to go halfsies on a pear cider). Miss Aimee Jean and I have on multiple holidays had the pleasure of being stuffed into a house crammed to the gills with extended family.  And if we’re not flinging mashed potatoes at each other (actually we only did that once…sorry, grandma) sometimes we’re marveling a what a wonderful, and huge, family we have.

By and large, our family is made up of the type of folks who usually reach into the cooler during the aforementioned holiday get-downs for a reduced-calorie American pilsner. But, once in a blue moon (and there’s one this month, you know), or if it’s a special occasion (i.e. it’s Sunday and the liquor store’s closed) they might also reach for a glass of vino. In which case they open the fridge and pull out the timeless and elegantly packaged box of Franzia White Zinfandel. There are many special things about this wine I’m sure, but the true magic of it is that it manages to offer both refreshment and sweetness, while leaving your breath smelling all boozy and watermelon-laced (this only applies on the way down, teens).  Not to mention, it’s a spot on perfect pairing with tater tot hot dish.

To you and your family, and to my cousin Aimee Jean, on this non-holiday I raise a glass and say CHEERS!

Slovenian Wines all week next week!

Movia in Slovenia

I’m giddy.  Next week I am going to be completely and utterly entrenched in the wines of one of my newfound favorite wine producing countries of all time. Slovenia.

On Tuesday night, I’m teaching a wine class at Trilogija Wine Bar and Restaurant based on the various regions and their specialities, including some Slovenian-inspired dishes.

On Thursday I head out with a few friends to visit 2-3 wineries, one producer of Sparkling and one who is supposedly making some of the best wine in Slovenia as a garagiste.

Friday headed up with a small group to visit a really interesting producer of the grape Zelen, a rare and indigenous variety of grape, and then to Movia.  As in  MOVIA. A winery I’ve long held an unnatural obsession with.

The next day I’ll be joined by more ladies at the Slovenian winery nearest and dearest to my heart, Kabaj.  We’ll spend a super VIP day drinking, learning and exploring Goriska Brda and it’s wonders…including a cooking class where we’ll learn a little something about the gastronomy of the region.

Hope you stay tuned for further updates!

New Classes Announced!

All classes at Brava Wine Studio in Zagreb!  Bijenik 99E.

Reservations: +385 91 455 2349


NEW!  Bring Your Own Bottle Evening
Meet up with fellow wine lovers and taste and try each other’s favorite wines! Starting in January, we’ll be inviting guests once a month to bring and share their own favorite bottles of wine.  Plenty of hors d’oeuvres will be offered, along with a few special bottles from Brava’s cellar. Themes will vary from month to month. Cost is 100 Kn.

Join us for Saberage fun!

Thursday, January 12th: Bring a bottle of sparkling wine to SABER! We will Christen this first BYOB evening by bringing our absolute favorite bottles of Champagne or sparkling wine, and we’ll step outside the studio to practice the art of saberage! We’ll discuss the various types of sparklers and anjoy an evening of delicious bubbles!

Thursday, February 16th:  “Somebottle like You” Bring a bottle of wine that represents YOU! Could be from a special year, maybe your birth year or a special anniversary in your life, from the land of your ancestors, or something that represents your personality (luscious and spicy?…). You decide, and we’ll all give it a try!

Blind Tasting- Will you win?

Thursday, March 15th: “The Wine is Right” with Grand Prize! On this occasion, guests bring two bottles of wine. The first one, your contestant for “The Wine is Right” will be brought completely incognito.  Wrap all but the mouth of the bottle in aluminum foil. The second bottle should be a bottle of wine you enjoy for everyday drinking.  Participants will try all incognito wines and vote on their favorite bottle.  At the end of the evening, the guest who brought that particular bottle leaves with all of the second bottles and gets to go home and stock their cellar!

Seasonal Flavor: Food and Wine Pairing
Join us for a class that takes inspiration from the Zagreb’s famous farmers market: The Dolac! Just as the market changes with seasonal abundance, so do the wines that pair with them. We’ll scour the market for the freshest offerings, prepare some simple but tasty dishes, then invite you to the table for an evening of seasonal, fresh wine pairings.  Food, wine and recipes included in the 300 Kn.  Tuesday, January 17th, from 1830-2030.

Bubbly! Yeah!

The Quick Sip on Bubbles (day class)
Join us for a very bubbly afternoon as we the different styles of sparkling wines, including beautiful bubbles from Croatia and abroad. The afternoon wouldn’t be complete without tasting and comparing Prosecco, Cava, Sparkling Rose, and Champagne. A few salty snacks will be served alongside the wines, to fully experience the magic bubbles bring to the table. 250 Kn. Sunday, January 22nd, from 1400-1600.

Jean Michael Morel of Kabaj Winery in Slovenia

Our Neighbor to the North- Slovenia!

The buzz is true! Slovenia is making amazing wines, often utilizing unique methodology for creating one-of-a-kind wines that can’t be replicated anywhere else in the world. Join this most exciting class to learn what all the fuss is about and take a foray into the wine regions and interesting grapes of Slovenia. This small country is making some truly breathtaking wines! 200 Kn. Thursday, February 7th, from 1830-2030.

Delicious Rioja!

The Seduction of Rioja

Abrazos and Besos from beautiful Spain! Travel via your wineglass to one of the most intriguing regions in the world, producing stunning and iconic red wine. We’ll try wines from several producers in Rioja’s and discover which wines and the different styles we like for ourselves. Savoring these wines alongside some tasty tapas seems like the right thing to do. 300 Kn. Wednesday, February 22nd, from 1830-2030

Natural and Organic Wine on the mystical Leap Year night!
Back by popular demand, we’ll further delve into the depths of this subject. Here we explore the differences of natural, organic, biodynamic wines, what they mean, and how they are changing the way that wine is made. Expect some lively discussion at this class and prepare to try some unique and amazing wines.  NATURALLY, some organic snacks to go along with the wines! 300 Kn. Wednesday February 29th, from 1830-2030.