The old adage, it never hurts to ask, is a mantra I live my life by. The worst response you can get is no, so you might as well give it a shot! You’d be surprised at all the times the universe has said YES.
The trouble with our favorite Indian spot is the wine list. It’s bad. I usually order water. Husband usually gets some random beer called Haywards 5000. But the food is awesome. The spice is crazy, the quality is great, and it’s cheap. I had a gorgeous bottle of Riesling I was saving and I really wanted to drink it with Indian food. Ordering to go is a pain since the restaurant is about 20 minutes away. So I said, what if we called and asked if we can BYOB? They said of course, for a $7 corking fee. SCORE.
Now this place is not exactly the Maharaja Express, but it gets the job done. I always try to order something different since everything I’ve had is great, and the menu is pretty extensive, filled with items I’ve never tried; Chicken Saag, Rogan Josh, Seekh Kebab, and a whole lot more.
We started with some vegetable samosas and the cinnamon/cardamom flavors popped through which was really fun. For dinner I went with Chicken Vindaloo, hot and spiced chicken cooked with potatoes and a touch of vinegar. They always ask you whether you want it Spicy, American Spicy or Indian Spicy. Now Husband and I consider ourselves connoisseurs of spice. When we travel we seek out the local hot sauce. Put some Tabasco on it and I’m usually a happy camper. Last time we were here I went with “Indian spicy” and it literally knocked my socks off. I could barely eat through the tears streaming down my face. Since I actually had some wine I wanted to enjoy with this meal, I toned it down to American Spicy.
They provided us with an ice bucket soda pitcher to keep the wine chilled. Let me tell you, bringing this wine to dinner was the best idea. Ever. The Hillersden 2015 Riesling tied everything together like an essential part of the meal, almost another food group. A whiff of honey on the nose; light and vibrant with a bit of lemon zest. This meal’s perfect degree of spice was a flawless companion to the slightly sweet Riesling. A faint touch of minerality on the finish, it was the missing link to make this dining experience complete.
Next time you’re wanting to go to dinner but know the wine list is subpar, ask to BYOB. It can make the experience that much better.
Hillersden, the wine producer, has a pretty neat story as well. Historically Hillersden was an industrial township in New Zealand’s Upper Wairau Valley. World War II crippled its industry, leading to its steady decline. Husband and Wife team Bruce and Marian Forlong came to Hillersden in 2013, along with their three sons, with the goal of bringing new life to the area. And so far, based on this Riesling, they’re doing a great job.
So far distribution in the US is limited, but you can use coupon code ESQUIRE for 30% off their entire wine selection through October 31. Shipping isn’t too bad, and the wine is super affordable. Let me know what you think!
Until the next glass, Cheers!
Lawyer Footnotes  It comes in an extra-large bottle and it’s actually kind fun.  Which is reasonable and fair. #BYOB To all those restaurants price gouging with a $20 cork fee, really?!  Which is on the travel bucket list for sure. Check this out, it looks amazing!
 Boneless chicken cooked with chopped spinach, and Indian spices.  Lamb cubes cooked with tomatoes in freshly grounded spices, and yogurt sauce.  Skewered ground lamb, spiced with garam masala, onion, ginger, and cilantro.  Confession: I don’t remember what Husband got, but he usually gets Chicken Tikka Masala. It was great.  Anguilla’s Rockfield Pepper Sauce is up there as one of THE BEST in the world. Serious Wow.  It was the right choice.  Fancy? No. Efficient? Yes.  And at $15 a bottle, it’s a no-brainer.  AND they forgot to charge us the BYOB corkage fee. Probably because nobody ever brings their own wine. Or maybe because they know us and felt bad their wine list was bad.
Sometimes I have really great ideas. Driving into New York City, by myself, during rush hour, on a Friday afternoon, did not happen to be one of them. I’ve never driven into the heart of Manhattan before, at least not by myself. Now that I’ve done it, though, I think I can pretty much conquer the world. If you find yourself having to do this, I found that blasting classical music helps to keep tempers calm.
But let’s get to the important stuff. Like why I was driving into NYC, by myself, during rush hour, on a Friday afternoon. It was because I was on my way to meet with Paul Smith, winemaker at Wirra Wirra Vineyards in McLaren Vale, Australia. I’d met Laura at the Wine Bloggers Conference out in Lodi earlier this year and she works for Negociants USA, an Australian-focused wine negociant and distributor. They brought Paul in to New York to do some tastings and events, and I was lucky enough to meet up with him before he got back on a plane to head back Down Under.
Our meeting was supposed to be at 4 p.m. I had snuck out of the office left work early to drive in to the city and when I left, Waze told me I’d arrive by 3:00. That would give me enough time to check in to the Library Hotel, freshen up and make my way to Flinders Lane, an Australian restaurant in NYC. Well, time passed and the traffic increased, and soon my ETA was 4:45. I let Laura know I’d be a wee bit late, but they were very understanding. My arrival time ended up being around 5:30; I was a bit stressed, but once I arrived, caught up with Laura, met Paul and started tasting the wine, all was well again in the world.
Paul described Wirra Wirra’s McClaren Vale as the place where the vines meet the sea, and told me that Wirra Wirra roughly translates to among the many “gum” or eucalyptus trees.
Founded in 1894, the winery was started by an eccentric cricketer named Robert Strangways Wigley. His wine business lasted until the early 1920s but then fell into disrepair after his death. Cousins Greg and Roger Trott revived the vines and began making wine again in 1972 after rebuilding from the ground up. Since then they’ve become a household name in Australia, with their Church Block red blend becoming the number one by-the-glass wine in Australia.
As you may have guessed, the Church Block vines are grown around a little church; with such a long running history, it has become a tradition for families to come to the winery each year to taste and purchase each vintage. The blend of Cabernet, Shiraz and Merlot spends 15 months in a mix of French and American barrels. The result is a luscious, smooth and velvety juice. The nose on the 2013 Wirra Wirra Church Block is almost flowery, the mouthfeel is gorgeous, and at $21.99, it’s not going to break the bank. So far so good, Wirra Wirra.
The storytelling that accompanied the wine was top notch and next up was the 2014 Catapult Shiraz. With a drawing of a catapult on the label, I knew the story was going to be good. Founder Greg Trott had the brilliant idea to build a medieval trebuchet, or catapult, for a very important and serious purpose: to hurl wine bottles at neighboring wineries for a bit of good fun. He figured that if he built one, so would his neighbors, and they could build a bit of a tourism draw to the catapulting wineries of the McLaren Vale. Surprisingly, none of his compatriots thought it was a good idea and the plan never materialized. His Wirra Wirra successors, however, revived the idea and built a three story high Catapult in 2010. While no wine bottles have been flung, watermelons are tossed with regularity.
The 2014 Catapult Shriaz was lovely. A bit of raisins and berries with a slightly spicy finish. A gentle and delicate Shiraz that was a very easy drinker. Interestingly 1% of the blend is Viognier, which may play a part in the delicacy of this wine. Paul told me how these grapes are pressed before the tannins get too hard and then spend 12 months in French oak.
I asked Paul how he got into winemaking, and another enchanting story ensued. He started out as a young man wanting to be a sheep herder, so he packed his bags and moved far away from home. Paul tried to get into vet school but didn’t have the grades, he also didn’t have the money to get home. His friend found him a job with Francois Jacquard, a well-respected Australian winemaker, pruning grapes before the harvest. His friend told Francois that Paul knew what he was doing, which was a bold faced lie. After observing Paul’s work for a bit, Francois took him aside and said, “You should be called Edward Scissorhands, you cut everything!” From there, Francois took Paul under his wing and taught him to prune. Paul fell in love with the agricultural process and wine has been part of his life ever since.
We tasted several more wines, including the Dead Ringer Cabernet, one of their flagship lines. A delicate nose, definitely not a fruit bomb. A hint of tobacco with dark, deep plum fruit and nice chewy tannins. Great texture and structure. Leathery with a long finish. This wine spends 18 months in a blend of new and old French oak. The history of the name Dead Ringer peaked my lawyerly interest. This line of wines started out in 1989 being called Angelus, and it is still known this way in Australia. But Château Angélus in Bordeaux took exception to the similar sounding name once it made its way over to mainland Europe. Lawyers were hired, a cease and desist letter was sent, and Wirra Wirra’s Dead Ringer was born, because it was a proverbial “dead ringer” for the wine formerly known as Angelus.
We wrapped up our tasting and said our goodbyes. Laura and Paul were both flying out early the next day and I was tired from my strenuous journey. I headed back to my lovely abode at the Library Hotel.
I was able to catch the tail end of their evening reception in the Reading Room with free flowing wine, bubbly, cheese and sweet treats. My inner book nerd went crazy for the hotel’s collection of 6,000 books, organized according to the Dewey Decimal System. Each floor of the hotel is a Dewey Decimal category, and each room features a collection of books on a unique subject.
Lawyer Footnotes  It didn’t, however, help with the sweaty palms.  The girls from Negociants USA hosted what I heard was a wild Aussie wine tasting after-party back at their house during #WBC16. Unfortunately, my lameness factor was on high though and I missed it. #SleepyHead  #lawyerlife  It also told me that I’d only have to make TWO turns off the West Side Highway in order to get to the parking garage. TWO. Not TWENTY TWO. TWO. #RushHourReDirect  This may have slightly exceeded the “Fashionably Late” concept.  Officially added to the Wine Bucket List.  The folks at Wirra Wirra like to say it’s the “one church that unites us all”. #cheeky Over the course of our wine tasting, it quickly became apparent to me that having fun at Wirra Wirra is a top priority for everyone, winemaker included. Their website suggests pairing the Church Block with “Beef, mushroom and red wine pie.” WHAT IS RED WINE PIE AND WHY HAVE I NEVER HEARD OF IT BEFORE?! Don’t worry, I found a recipe. You’re welcome. Husband will be making this for dinner in the very near future. I’ll let you know how it goes.  Such a good idea.  With some inspiration from this crazy English Lord who likes to muck about by catapulting flaming pianos and CARS on his estate. What?! #NBD
 Something about dangerous broken glass … #liability.  A tour of the vineyard will apparently reveal random divots here and there, evidence of past watermelon tossing.  This in itself is so awesome.  The name Angelus, of course, had its own history. Back in the 80s, a Wirra Wirra winemaker had swapped a few cases of wine for a ¾ ton bell that came out of a church in Adelaide. They hung the bell at the vineyard to signify the start to the work day.  ANOTHER twist to the story is that in China, one of Wirra Wirra’s bigger markets, the wine is known as the Golden Bell, because apparently anything with “Dead” in the name won’t sell. #InternationalBusiness
Wine tastings are fun. Wine tastings are even funner when there’s food involved too. Wine tastings are the funnest when instead of a “taste” you get full glasses of wine. And that’s pretty much what happens at The Capital Grille’s Generous Pour.
This yearly wine event runs for eight weeks starting in July and sadly comes to an end today. “Rebels, Rule Breakers & Game Changers” was the theme this year, and the featured wines each had a unique story to tell. For $28 per person, it’s an excellent way to experience seven different wines.
Husband and I participated in the event earlier this week at their downtown Hartford location. Our server Nicole was extremely knowledgeable about the wines, and when she explained the tasting as more of a “Bottomless Wine Glass,” I knew we were in for a fun ride.
In typical wine tasting form, we began with the whites which we paired with a selection of white-appropriate appetizers. We started with a tomato, basil and fresh hand-pulledmozzarella salad, generously drizzled with their 12-year aged Balsamic Vinegar. You could tell the mozz was fresh; dripping with flavor, enhanced by a smattering of Fleur de sel on top. I took a bite with each of the three whites and found that the super oaky Chardonnay was the best accompaniment. This was a single vineyard Chardonnay by California’s Chateau St. Jean; they were one of the first, if not the first, vineyard to make a single vineyard Chard, and it’s been in production from their Robert Young Vineyard since 1975.
Next we moved to a few tastes from the sea. Husband’s rich Lobster Bisque, which was finished with a tableside drizzle of warm sherry, paired exceptionally well with the Stellina Di Notte Pinot Grigio. A light, bright, citrusy wine, with not even the slightest metallic twinge, which has put me off of Pinot Grigios I’ve had in the past. The delicate wine cut the lavish bisque and complemented its intense flavors.
My lobster and crab cakes met their match with the Provenance Sauvignon Blanc. Let me first say that these were the moistest, richest seafood cakes I’ve had to date. Usually they’re dense, compact, and sometimes overly crisp. These were practically falling apart with thick, fresh pieces of crab and lobster abounding. And the decadent remoulade on the side was low calorie excellent as well.
As for the Provenance Sauvignon Blanc to go with them, well, wow. When one thinks Sauvignon Blanc, one doesn’t think Rutherford, California. Famed for its exceptional Cabernet Sauvignon, this area apparently produces astounding Sauvignon Blanc grapes as well. This was by far my favorite of the whites, and given that it was a Bottomless Wine Glass kinda night, I may have had a few glasses tastes. A beautiful bouquet on the nose with a touch of honey; hints of melon on the finish, great body. A real winner. It complemented the rich flavors of the juicy cakes and served as an excellent palate cleanser.
While sampling the appetizers, we snuck in the Etude Pinot Noir. Pinot Noir used to be my go-to wine, but I’ve really moved away from it lately. This was a reminder of why I love the grape so much. Smooth, silky and delicate. It was a great sipper on its own and served as a perfect segue from the whites to the more intense reds we were about to jump into.
The amuse-bouches is always one of my favorite parts of fine dining. You never know what’s going to pop out in between courses. Typically it’s a tiny flavorful appetizer to get you salivating and whet your appetite. Apparently the Chef at Capital Grille was feeling good that night because the bone-in lamb medallions were anything but bite sized, and seriously jam packed with flavor. Paired with Penfold’s Bin 2 Shiraz and Mourvedre blend, it was utterly outstanding. Cooked to perfection, the lamb was succulent and juicy. The wine was inky, spicy, deep and rich. The bold flavors went together like peas and carrots.
By now, as you may have noticed, we’d eaten quite a bit of food. The worst part about multi-course meals is forgetting to save room for the main course. Which is exactly what happened to us. If you didn’t know, Capital Grille is first and foremost a steakhouse. Every piece of beef is dry aged in-house for at least 18 days and hand cut to order. They are serious about their beef. 
Husband went with the special that evening, Steak Oscar, a filet mignon, extra special because it was bone-in, topped with luscious pieces of crab meat. I went for the Gorgonzola and Truffle Crusted Dry Aged NY Strip. Both meals were impeccably prepared with warm red centers that cut like butter. The ginormous portions of potatoes au gratin and bacon-topped Brussels sprouts were rich and flavorful, and though we ate as much as we could, it looked like we barely made a dent.
Now, when you have beef, you need red wine, and when you have really good beef, you need really good red wine. Let me tell you, the last two Generous Pour wine selections did not disappoint. Wow wow wow. From famed California Cabernet Sauvignon producers, we tasted juice from Stags Leap and Beaulieu Vineyard. Holy cow. The epitome of the fruit bomb, both wines were big, bold, beautiful and luscious. Total food wines, these were perfect complements to the insanely rich steaks.
The Leap by Stags Leap, which is usually available solely at their Napa Valley tasting room, was flawless. Lots of jam, maybe some raspberries, with an earthier finish and notes of toasted wood. Gorgeous. The Tapestry by Beaulieu Vineyard was a more traditional Bordeaux blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Petit Verdot. Big chewy tannins on this one, a touch drier than the Stags Leap. It’s literally impossible to choose a favorite because both were excellent examples of what wine is meant to be.
We continued sampling the last two Cabs for a bit, just to make sure we could discern the differences and truly appreciate them. To spice things up we had quick espresso pick-me-up before dessert. To satisfy my sweet tooth, I went with their simple homemade vanilla ice cream which was served with an intensely moist and delicious orange biscotti. I paired it with a bit of bubbly, a split of Moet Imperial Brut, while Husband went with an Onyx Moonshine on the rocks. We relocated to the outdoor patio and finished up al fresco.
An incredible meal, with impeccable service. If you’re near a Capital Grille, make sure you check out their Generous Pour wine tasting, and everything else they have!
Thank you to the Capital Grille for hosting us! xoxo
Until the next glass!
Lawyer Footnotes  Today being September 4, 2016.  Because after all, #HartfordHasIt.  A portion of our meal was generously covered by Capital Grille. Thoughts, opinions and tasting notes are my own.  Starting with the incredible bread basket with a hearty serving of soft butter topped with sea salt. Not sure where all the butter went, but it disappeared pretty quickly. #NoBreadWeekdays are suspended when Wine Esquire gets invited to dinner. Or when I can’t find anything else to eat. It’s kind of more like a goal instead of a strict rule. #RulesAreForBreaking  They literally hand pull mozzarella every two hours. #Normal.  That’s code for high end sea salt, harvested as it begins to form a fine crust on the surface of seawater.  It retails for around $20 a bottle, not too bad for an excellent Chardonnay.  Which he described as MagnificenT, with a capital T. At the end.  Which roughly translates to Starry Night.
 Not that I had more than a bite of this; Husband spooned up every last drop.  Read: Fried. Not that those aren’t good too, but these were ridiculously good.  At least I didn’t.  Fancy word for tiny appetizer.  All we needed was a pair of sterling silver lamb chop sleeves, also known as manche a gigot, like we had on New Year’s Eve.
 Something about their Kona coffee rub…just incredible.
 Don’t worry. I always save room for dessert. And more wine.  They are also serious about their service, and their attention to detail is outstanding. We had a table overlooking the kitchen and could see what was going on behind the scenes; the manager inspected each and every dish before it came out to be served. This level of service is a rarity, and it makes all the difference.  Nice and light, right?  Word really wanted to capitalize Brussel here. I was confused so I Googled it. Apparently this type of cabbage is named after the location where it was first cultivated, somewhere near Brussels, Belgium, so the “B” IS supposed to be capitalized, AND the correct way of saying and spelling it is Brussels sprouts (with an s). Who knew!?  Hello, leftovers!
 It’s a requirement. Legally speaking.  My wine sweet spot. #fruitbomb  A partnership for the Generous Pour allowed us to sample this exquisite blend of their best Cabernets in the comfort of Downtown Hartford.  Big, Bold and Fruity.  #BottomlessGlassesForTheWin  I know, I know, how could I eat dessert? But, see note 16, supra. I always have room for dessert. #priorities  Because one always needs a bit of bubbles.  We closed the place down. Our meal, which had started at 6:30, ended around 11. #SlowFood
I love going on adventures. Earlier this month I flew out to Lodi for the 2016 Wine Bloggers Conference and it was quite the adventure. Part of the conference agenda was a mystery excursion where attendees picked their destination based purely on the name. The choices included Watts Up, The Wine Abides, Three Ring Circus, The Rack Pack, 99 Bottles of Wine, The Porron Zone, Dutch Crush, Blends with Friends, and my snap pick, Goats, Groves & Grapes.
While everyone seemed to have a grand old time on their excursions, I can’t help but think that mine was very special. A group of about ten bloggers packed into a van and I was happy to see that Jeff, one of my best good Twitter friends, who I’d yet to meet in person, was in my group.
It took us about ten minutes to get to our first destination, Jessie’s Grove Winery. We were greeted by Wanda Bechtold and her son Greg Burns, fourth and fifth generation owners and caretakers of the winery. They welcomed us into their tasting room with a glass of Chardonnay and quickly brought us through to an outdoor space where we gathered around Wanda and settled in for a tale of the history of Jessie’s Grove.
This 85 year old matriarch was a beautiful sight to behold. She’d published a book in 2004 about the history of her family’s estate and she used it to tell us the tale of her great grandfather, Joseph Spenker, who immigrated to the United States from Dragun, Germany in 1854. His journey to Lodi started when he joined a wagon train to the West Coast in 1859, hoping to capitalize on the Gold Rush and find his fortune. At a rate of about two miles per hour, the journey took him 154 days. He’d made a poor decision when he traded his only horse for a mining claim that turned out to be barren; so and after several months when nothing had panned out, with $1.27 in his pocket he walked to Stockton, California. He began selling mining tools to the miners who hadn’t yet lost hope, and in ten years, after saving and scraping, he found himself the proud owner of more than 1,500 acres, including the land I found myself sitting on that day.
Joseph’s daughter Jessie, who the winery is named for, took over management and had to make some tough decisions during the Great Depression and Prohibition. Jessie’s perseverance is what kept them going. As the roosters crowed and the cat meowed from under the table in front of us, I realized what a special moment this was, and how much history was surrounding me. The resulting success of Jessie’s Grove is a testament to the hard work and forethought from each generation of the Spenker family who sacrificed to keep the operation going.
When Wanda’s tale was over, we took a tour of the surrounding property; a gorgeous sprawling space with a rustic old barn, a live music venue, an open air museum, and last but not least, Tortie, Wanda’s pet tortoise.
Greg, Wanda’s son and current owner, walked us through the vines, which were almost ready to start harvesting. Some vines had been planted as far back as the late 1800s, making them some of Lodi’s oldest.
Just as we were grabbing the perfect photo of the sunlight on the grapes, our van appeared and it was time to travel to our next stop, their “cousin” property, Spenker Winery. Just a few minutes down the road, another branch of the Spenker family also grows grapes, but on a bit of a smaller scale. This Spenker bunch has been growing grapes for more than 100 years. Fritz Spenker bought the farm from his relative, Joseph Spenker, Jessie’s father. It’s not clear how they’re related exactly, so the families continue to refer to each other as cousins. Fritz’s grandson Chuck began making wine with his wife Bettyann in 1994, and by 1997 they’d earned a 90 rating from Wine Spectator. In addition to their two daughters, Kate and Sarah, the Spenker’s have brought on lots of goats to help with farm tasks, and now Bettyann makes fabulous, fresh goat cheese. The plan is to have the Spenker Artisan Creamery open in 2017.
We were introduced to the goats and even got to feed them. They were just as excited as we were! When it was time for them to go to bed, we headed into the tasting room for dinner. Our meal of homemade stuffed peppers with a healthy side of fresh grown tomatoes and homemade goat cheese was stunning. The cheesecake finish was topped with an exquisite zinfandel reduction. It was exactly what we needed after our strenuous day of wine tasting.
We walked out feeling sated and truly moved by the hospitality we’d been shown. The Jessie’s Grove and Spenker families welcomed us with open arms. And then, as if they night couldn’t get any better, we walked out to a stunning sunset surrounding the vineyard. An epic end to an epic day.
Lawyer Footnotes  #WBC16  Because who doesn’t love goats? But seriously, I was also hoping for some chèvre…  Read: the BEST one.  Wanda and Greg are the owners of neighboring Bechthold Vineyards as well. Famous for their Cinsault grapes, it was named California’s best vineyard in 2014, and is also Lodi’s oldest at 128 years old.
 It’s out of print and now virtually impossible to get. Keep your eyes peeled at tag sales and church book sales for me!  See what I did there? #playonwords #panningforgold  With a few more glasses of wine. Obviously.  I figured the goats had to be there since we’d only seen a tortoise at Jessie’s Grove. I was right.  I’ll be back.  No but seriously, it’s hard work! I swear!