Monday, June 29, 2009

O, Say Can You Eat

I swear I didn’t plan this—I’m not America’s most patriotic daughter (read: I’ve seriously considered moving to Canada in recent years)—but in apparent honor of impending Independence Day I appear to be experiencing latent home-country pride in my wine choices. Call it relief that we finally got it right in the White House, call it support of the resuscitation of the farming industry, or just call it gratitude to live in a place where we can still choose who and how we want to be and live . . . Last night’s feast and the wines that loved it remind me I’m still glad to hail from the heartland.


Monday, 6.29.09

Course 1: Spring garlic and semolina soup wih swiss chard, charred red onions, balsamic, and poached chicken

Preliminary Pairings: 2007 Koehler Chardonnay, 2007 Big Fire Pinot Gris

Chicken soup in late June? Yes, please. This one has plenty of light, bright flavors to summer-ize it. Gunthorp Farm chicken stock was thickened with organic semolina, which resulted in a consistency close to miso soup and was surprisingly refreshing, with a perfectly salted broth poured over Green Acres Farm swiss chard leaves, stems, and spring garlic puree.

My “soup and chardonnay’ alarm went off again (remember the Rully Blanc with the mushroom consomm√©?) and the 2007 Koehler from Santa Ynez Valley, California seemed like the right choice. Super crisp and clean, with only half the fruit seeing oak (and only 10% of that in American oak), and the rest aging in stainless steel to preserve the natural varietal characteristics, Koehler is an interesting animal. Quite frankly, I feel the Koehler is a French poseur due to the pristine flavor and unopposing mouthfeel; a California wine with Burgundian sensibilities. I might also say that the Koehler is an American in French clothing; in other words, the girl next door wearing Christian Lacroix. But I digress. The garlic and semolina soup took center stage when we tasted it with Koehler and I can only describe the result as mellow. As we often say at Lula, this pairing showcased the food rather than the wine.

2007 Big Fire Pinot Gris is American all the way, with its happy, juicy, honeysuckle fruitiness. No restraint or haughtiness here, no Burgundian stylings, and this no-holds-barred sunshine optimism can only come from the land of priviledge and plenty, a place where everything is gonna be OK. Yeah, it sounds like I’m talking about Beverly Hills 90210 or The OC or something, but Big Fire is actually from Oregon. I hear the Pacific Northwest has a pretty Zen vibe; a little less New Age-y than Cali but just as chilled-out. The wines aren’t half bad, either. Anyway, all those bright green flavors in the garlic and semolina soup just sung with the Big Fire. This pairing showcased wine and food equally, and we were all amazed at just how good the wine’s fruit tasted and how flavorful the soup was, too.

Favorite: 2007 Big Fire Pinot Gris


Course 2. Whole pan roasted Rushing Waters trout with a summer vegetable and new potato salad, soft herbs, and toasted almond vinaigrette

Preliminary Pairings: 2008 Mas de Gourgonnier Rose, 2007 Saint Gregory Pinot Meunier, 2007 Ladairo Mencia


Rushing Waters is a supplier of the freshest, healthiest, most natural trout in the midwest. The only unnatural aspect of the fishery is that the farmers don't allow any outside chemicals or toxins into the trouts' environment. Neat, huh? Rushing Waters takes a eco-friendly approach to farm raising fish and the trouts enjoy a clean place to swim until humans enjoy the trouts. Circle of life.

Jason Hammel likes nothing better than to display the Rushing Waters trouts to their full glory by serving them with their heads still on. Whole pan roasted trout can be a bit rich and hearty and often times takes on a wintry feel, so the challenge for the sous chefs was (as with the chicken soup) to lighten and brighten up the dish. Enter a smattering of soft herbs (tarragon, parsley, chervil) stuffed inside the trout, real new potatoes from Nichols Farm (as opposed to small, round potatoes calling themselves newps, these puppies are the actual first potatoes of the season) slathered in almond and spring garlic aioli, and sliced Green Acres snap peas and pea pods, asparagus, leeks, and toasted almond vinaigrette around the plate.

Having just paired Bertrand Ambroise with halibut a few weeks ago, I needed to be cunning choosing a red for the trout (Ambroise being my go-to fish red). Hm.... light bodied, but with darker sensibilities to stand up to pan-roasting, juiciness to cut through aioli but with enough structure to stand up to crisp veggies . . . Ding! Mendocino County's 2006 Saint Gregory Pinot Meunier! (As Hunter, one of the line cooks, would say, "Done, son."). What's great about the Saint Gregory is that it takes a bastard grape, a previously unsung blending varietal, and pimps it (sorry, JH) into star-turn, kick-ass juice that is wonderful with food or simply sips happily on its own. How American is that? Yeah, it may not be the most fancy, or of the finest pedigree, but it tastes terrific and doesn't bother you with snobbery.

I like to tout the '06 Saint Gregs as "the darker side of pinot noir" (the varietals are, after all, cousins). Pinot meunier is known for the fine white hairs on the underside of the leaf which from a distance resembles baking flour, thus it was named the miller, or meunier. I think pinot meunier is a little feistier than pinot noir in flavor, also a little heartier, and not as finicky on the vine. The SG is full of juicy berry fruit but also shows a certain brooding quality, perhaps lent by herbal aromas, or maybe the result of oak. The smokiness of the trout, the tanginess of the new potatoes and almonds, and the refreshing burst of the snap peas and company all had a little mouth-party with the herbal notes, the juiciness, and the velvety tannins in the Saint Gregs respectively.

As you can see above, readers, we tasted Mas de Gourgonnier and Ladairo Mencia with the trout as well. Mas de Gourgonnier is delicious, already BTG on Lula's list and a total no-brainer. Ladairo was overpowering and I like it too much to delve into why it didn't work last night. You'll be hearing about Ladairo at some point on this blog and you'll see why it was worth trying.

Favorite: 2006 Saint Gregory Pinot Meunier


Course 3. Vanilla panna cotta with sumer fruits and cardamom sugar cookie

Preliminary Pairings: NV Innocent Bystander Pink Moscato, 2005 Oremus Tokaji

If I may say so, I was very proud of this dessert because I helped Melissa plan it. A bit. As in:

Melissa: "What should I make for Farm? I have rhubarb."
Me: "What about rhubarb soup? With vanilla? Um, and a cookie?"

And she outdid herself with a taste explosion, a perfect vehicle for all the amazing summer fruit coming to us from Klug Farm, and the ingenious addition of cardamom. The panna cotta sat in the middle of a chilled broth (made primarily of rhubarb and champagne) dotted with strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, and cherries. So good, so refreshing, so elegant. And red, white, and blue! Naturally (ahem) I wanted to try sweet (pink) bubbles. Innocent Bystander isn't domestic but it looks like a confected soda in a coke-sized bottle with a cap to boot . . . C'mon! Soda pop moscato? Americana at its (adult-themed) best. I liked the Tokaji, too, but fizzy lifting drinks just proved to be too good.

Favorite: Innocent Bystander


You know the drill for Wednesday and Thursday nights. July starts tomorrow and I've never felt luckier to be in the present, eating great food and drinking great wine with friends and family when time and distance allows, and celebrating the life we all share. Years move fast, life is short, and reflecting on those things I enjoyed last night, the weeks before, and the weeks to come inspires me to savor every moment. E-kisses and Happy Independence!

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Goat Meat, Pancetta, and Shortcake. Oh, my!

As if the fact that it's so sweltering outside the sidewalk is melting isn't enough indication, last night's Farm Dinner further proves that summer is officially upon us. A smattering of various local meats and fresh produce delighted last night with dishes possessing favorite warm-weather flavor combos: smoky meat, tangy dressing, and well, shortcake. Hello, hotness!


Monday, 6.22.09

Course 1: Crispy goat rillettes with chicory salad, brown butter vinaigrette, and grilled bread

Preliminary Pairings: 2007 75 Wine Co. Sauvignon Blanc, 2007 Prager Gruner Veltliner

I know that "crispy goat rillettes" sound good. But somehow that little phrase doesn't do justice to how ridiculously tasty they actually are. Let me explicate: Slagel Farm goat, braised, emulsified with duck fat, molded into patties and pan-fried. I'm going to say this again. Slagel Farm goat, braised, emulsified with . . .

Ok, you get the idea. But really, OMG. Sometimes people are a little afraid of goat meat (Mom, I know you're out there) due do its texture and tendency to be slightly gamey, but we're talking about tender, lovingly raised goats whose meat exudes excellent smokey flavors and takes on characteristics of other items on the plate; in this case, a grilled Nichols Farm radicchio and endive (both hearty and delicate) salad with roasted shallot and a sherry and brown butter vinaigrette, and a grilled baguette slice topped with another swoosh of awesomeness. This time Nicole dreamed up a snazzy little version of gribiche, adding diced sopressata and extra virgin olive oil to the usual yummy capers and hard cooked egg, giving the spread a less-mayonnaise-y constistency and making it a brilliant, zippy counterpart to the deep smokiness of the goat and chicories.

My preliminary musings on this course led me to consider only white wines for pairings, but after seeing the dish I wished I had grabbed at least one red to try with it. (I'm usually wary of pairing red right off the bat with a prix fix because I like to start with light-bodied wines and work up to the fuller ones--consistent with the light-to-heavy progression of meals--but sometimes only a red will do)! Luckily our 2nd course red favorite turned out to pair well across the board with this Farm Dinner (but more on that later). For now, the whites: Giavanna, Aaron, Tracey, Kendal, and Dave (my illustrious Monday night staff) and I were divided, point blank, on our favorite pairing with the goat rillettes. Well, not exactly our favorite, because we ended up liking both wines equally, but we disagreed on the reasons.

Liberal use of lemon juice throughout the rillettes dish added a nice citrus component, which I thoroughly enjoyed with the 75 Wine, a fantastic and reasonably priced sauvignon blanc from Napa with super clean grapefruit, grass, and mineral characteristics, lively acid, and a lingering finish. My staff, however, argued that it was the smoky notes of the chicories and goat that tasted so well with the 75. I liked those very same deep, smoky, earthy (and slightly bitter) flavors best with the Prager GV, quite possibly the best food wine we have on our list at Lula. Austrian wines are always nice go-to pairing wines due to their aromatic noses and clean, austere, high acid palates, and the Prager (from Kamptal) is no exception. Of course my staff just had to contradict me, contending that it was the citrus, not the smoke, that they liked best with the Prager. Well, I'm the boss so my word is bond. Just kidding.

Favorites: 75 SB, Prager GV


Course 2: Pancetta and goat cheese ravioli with green garlic agrodolce and Oregon porcini

Preliminary Pairings: 2006 Buglioni Valpolicella, 2007 Tenuto Garetto Barbera d' Asti

So I mentioned earlier that upon seeing the rillettes I wished I had grabbed a red to try, and the opposite held true with the ravioli! I hadn't chosen a white for my preliminary pairings, just on a whim, and the flavors of the dish are light enough that a white would've done just fine. Good thing we had all of our 1st course whites open and available and it was easy to take a swig of each of those, just to make double sure we were crossing all of our t's and dotting our i's. Indeed, both the 75 and the Prager were delicious with the ravioli, but I was more concerned about the red wines since the whites were such no-brainers.

But I'm getting a little ahead of myself. First of all, let me just say that this dish is slightly deceptive. Only 5 or 6 raviolis dot the plate, which sounds skimpy but turned out to be a perfect portion size, due to the heartiness of the house-made noodles and the richness of the goat cheese. Anyway, our Gunthorp Farm pancetta, green garlic from Spence Farm, and Capriole goat cheese (from Indiana!) make a delicious filling for the ravioli, and Jason's agrodolce (an Italian sweet and sour dressing) is always delicious. This time he used the same Spence green garlic, and topped the whole thing with the earthy West Coast porcinis and a little parmesan cheese. It's interesting, because after the pow! bam! zing! of the goat rillettes dish, the raviolis, simple and straightforward, seemed a perfect follow-up.

My original pairing idea was the Buglioni Valpolicella, which is like a confected fruit explosion with light body and a juicy mouthfeel, very straightforward and drinkable, but not super complex. But, like everything in my life, I started over-thinking and went in search of a more complicated option (this is starting to sound like my love life). Turns out the simplest choice was the right one! The Tenuto Garetto Barbera is a great wine, fruity at the start, but but turning mysterious and brooding at the end, with a little tannic bite on the finish to remind you its feisty. I wanted the TG Barbera to be the favorite here, with the earthy aspects matching up to the goat cheese and porcinis, but the sunshine tanginess of the agrodolce, the brightness of the green garlic, and the bacon-y happiness of the pancetta just tasted too good with that yummy little fruit-bomb Buglioni. Done and done. Also, as I mentioned above, good ole Bugs turned out to be delicious with the rillettes as well (and thank you to some guinea pig customers for trying that out for me)!

Favorite: 2006 Buglioni Valpolicella


Course 3: Milk and dark chocolate biscuit with raspberries and marshmallow ice cream

Preliminary Pairings: NV Vin du Bugey-Cerdon Rose, M. Chapoutier Banyuls, Novaia Late-Harvest Valpolicella

Melissa is going to yell at me but I have to say this (especially for my Dad, who will love what I'm about to tell you): This dessert is a deconstructed shortcake. And it is awesome, and you'll agree with me Wednesday when it hits the dessert menu. Instead of all of the components layered on top of each other in true cake form, a dark-chocolate biscuit lies on a bed of milk chocolate ganache. Next to it, raspberry fool (fruit puree with chantilly folded in) studded with fresh Klug Farm raspberries, and next to that, homemade marshmallow ice cream on top of chocolate short-dough cookie crumbs. Yeeaw!

Ok, so I always reach for Vin du Bugey-Cerdon for a berry fruit and chocolate dessert. Why? Because it is sweet sparkling gamay from Burgundy and it is quite possibly one of the best things on the planet. I've heard people describe it as "jolly rancher in a glass", but I don't think it is as cloying as that. It does, however, seem to take on the particular characteristics of whatever berry you might be eating with it at the time. So this time, it tasted like raspberries and it was lovely with the chocolate, as well, because berries and chocolate go together like freakin' Lennon and McCartney.

Just to stick it to me, the staff was divided about the Banyuls and Novaia. Gia, Tracey, Kendal, and I like the Banyuls (slightly lighter than the Novaia), which paired deliciously with the berry aspects of the dish and stood up to the chocolate. Dave and Aaron argued that the Novaia was the better choice (admittedly, that stuff is like heaven with chocolate). Personally, I think the Novaia overpowered the berries . . .

But come in and taste for yourself! It'll all be waiting for you at the bar. Dave will be working Wednesday (not his normal shift, but lucky us) and can chat you up on our tasting discussions. Enjoy, and of course, e-kisses.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Late-Spring Bounty = Vegetarian Deliciousness!!

Welcome to the 2nd Lula Wine Post! Just a bit of background about last night's Farm Dinner before we get to the good stuff:

Every couple months Jason and the sous chefs (sounds like a mo-town act) do an all-vegetarian Farm Dinner, which keeps our herbivorous friends happy and updates the Dinner Specials menu with a vegetarian option that is more reflective of the local farmers' current offerings. After all, what better way to showcase produce than to put it in some super-yummy all-veg dishes?

Monday, 6.15.09

Course 1: West coast mushroom consomme with stinging nettle and ricotta toast

Preliminary Pairing: 2006 Domaine de la Folie Rully Blanc Clos la Folie

To me, "consomme" means "clean tasting." (It actually means "clarified broth," but since when have I operated in the real world?) Also, to me, "consomme" says "French." So when deciding a wine to pair with a consomme, I reach for a clean tasting French wine. Ahem, Bourgogne, anyone? Nothing says "French" and "clean flavors" to me like a good ole white Burgandy. Plus, since the consomme in question here is vegetarian, a Bourgogne Blanc fits the bill in terms of body and flavor profile as well. The Clos la Folie is delicate and fruity with a hint of minerality. Chardonnay can sometimes be too big for its britches but the Rully Blanc is quite dainty, with restrained green apple flavors and a nice, food-friendly medium body.

I wasn't looking for super-high acid when pairing the mushroom consomme because it isn't fatty. I did need to consider the stinging nettle and ricotta toast, which is basically a grilled and garlic-ed slice of Red Hen Bakery French Baguette spread with a liberal swoosh of a scrumptious stinging nettle greens (from Spence Farm) and house-made ricotta mixture, topped with pickled radish, West Coast porcinis and morels, and these lovely little rapini flowers (which, incidentally, made the whole dish look like an impressionist painting when dunked and swirled into the broth. Beautiful).

Clos la Folie has a gorgeous, supple mouthfeel, achieved from the malolactic fermentation technique, which is the process of introducing lactic acid during fermentation and which results in a round, unctuous mouthfeel. This replaced the effects of natural grape acid and stood up to the ricotta cheese spread and the oil on the toast. The Rully Blanc did itself proud, with the green apple flavors providing a nice compliment to the freshness and tartness of the green (tarragon, parsley, nettle, rapini flowers) and pickled (radish) aspects of the dish.

Favorite (duh): Rully Blanc


Course 2: Spring pea and dill sformato with heirloom carrot and focaccia, carrot vinaigrette, summer blossoms, and fregola

Preliminary Pairings: 2007 Jean-Luc Colombo Cotes du Rhone Blanc La Redonne, 2008 Couly-Dutheil Chinon Rose, 2006 Bodegas Protos Roble Joven

"What is sformato?" you ask. "Fregola?" you say. Molded custard and pearl shaped Sardinian semolina pasta (similar to Israeli cous cous) respectively, dear readers. Specifically, the sformato from last evening is made from a puree of the most delightfully pale green Klug Farm english peas, eggs, and cream, and set into a mold. It nests on a salad of house-made focaccia, Wisconsin pea tendrils, and sous-vide poached Werp Farm carrots, dressed with the carrot poaching liquid and Cava vinaigrette. Crowning the sformato is a squash blossom stuffed with the fregola. Hints of dill, lemon, and shallot, interspersed throughout, compliment the flavors of the dish.

Again (and as usual), I wanted to present several wine options for the entree: a white, a rose, and a red (readers, get used to this). I'm brimming with reasons and thought processes here, but I'll try not to be too verbose:

Colombo La Redonne, in a word, ROCKS. It is a fantastic food wine with lively acid, an aromatic nose of peaches and honeysuckle, and exotic flavors of almost tropical fruit balanced by (the ever-popular) slight minerality. With viognier adding aroma and roussanne lending structure, this wine always pleases with a little something for everyone. While delicious with the bread salad and squash blossom, La Redonne left something to be desired with the sformato (to be honest, we all felt it was a little boring. Tasty, but no "wow factor").

Couly-Dutheil Chinon Rose, however, kicked major tush. New to our wine list, C-D Rose is experiencing its 15 minutes of fame at Lula as the new staff favorite. (We do get wine "crushes" and this little number is the hottest thing since our love affair with a certain 2007 Beaujolais Nouveau). Made from 100% cabernet franc, berry fruit is the name of the game, but delightfully the Chinon Rose also packs elements of black pepper (typical of Chinon Rouges) and spice. Something magical happened when we tasted this wine with the sformato dish. I think the body of the wine, coupled with the fruitiness and those mysterious secondary characteristics, created an unexpected twist and a truly unique flavor combination (you'll just have to experience it to believe).

Finally, the Bodegas Protos: a roble joven (young red from Ribera del Duero, Spain), the wine has fruit, structure, and spice, a medium body, and is food-friendly, just how we like 'em. I think the juicy-fruitiness of the Protos is what made the pairing so delicious, because it truly was. Also, Italian-inspired dishes often pair nicely with Spanish wines, which mimic the fruit and spice of Italians but possess slightly less gusto and therefore are easier to drink with lighter fare.

Favorites: Chinon Rose, Protos


Course 3: Pecan tart with bourbon-brown sugar ice cream and black currants

Preliminary Pairing: Alvear Solera Cream Sherry

Bourbon. Pecan. Currant. Caramel. Molasses. Um, are you kidding me? Get this: the tarts are basically individual sized pecan pies with a custard of molasses and brown sugar and topped with bourbon-soaked pecans, all encrusted in short-dough for extra richness. The bourbon-brown sugar ice cream is studded with bourbon soaked black currants, and finishing the plate is a treasure-trail of bourbon-caramel sauce with more bourbon soaked pecans and currants floating in it. I'm actually getting a little teary-eyed with joy reminiscing about this dessert.

Now, Solera Cream Sherry is good. So good, and the Alvear has nutty, caramel-y, flavors that also reflect a raisined quality. Hello! Nutty flavors of sherry = pecan pie. Caramel flavors of sherry = bourbon-caramel and brown sugar. Raisin flavors of sherry = bourbon soaked black currants. I will say no more.

Favorite: Alvear Solera Cream Sherry


Get in while the gettin' is good! All of the above wines will be open on Wednesday and Thursday evenings this week, and the sformato will be appearing on the Dinner Specials menu, and I hope the pecan tart sticks around, because, well, duh.

E-kisses!

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Hey all you Lula Fans.......

Hello and Welcome to the first ever Lula Wine Blog!



Some of you out there may know me, Miriam, General Manager, and friendly face behind the scenes here at Lula Cafe. Some of you out there may not know that my passion for wine, already ignited before I started working at Lula two years ago, skyrocketed as I took on the duty of choosing wines each week to match with our ever changing Monday Night Farm Dinner. I'm so excited to share this passion with you, our beloved customers and fans, by including you in the process of how I make my wine-pairing selections. This way, everybody can make the most of their LC experience!

Each week I meet with the sous chefs as they plan the next Farm Dinner to get some background information about the menu, which helps me start thinking about choices for wine-pairings. Farm Dinner is usually written around a central theme (and this can be a region, an ingredient, a cooking technique, or any other culinary whim), and many times I make pairing decisions according to the theme. For example, if the Farm Dinner has an Italian spin I'll pull Italian wines to match.

On Monday afternoons, the staff and I taste each Farm Dinner course with my preliminary pairing selections and as a group we pick the wine that works best. Every Tuesday I'll post the Farm Dinner menu, my short-listed wine-pairing contenders, and our group favorites here on this blog. I hope to keep these wines (usually listed only by the bottle) open to sell by the glass on Wednesday and Thursday evenings as the Farm Dinner items make their way onto the Dinner Specials menu.

All of us at Lula Cafe would love for you to stop in and sample our latest creations, brought to you in part by the genius of Jason Hammel and Lea Tshilds (co-owners and the cutest married couple around (and parents of the cutest 18-month-old around as well)), in part by the tireless efforts of Nicole and Duncan (sous chefs), and in part by the most gorgeous locally cultivated produce and meats in the midwest (and thank you to Mick Klug, Greg Gunthorp, George Rasmussen, the Werps, the Slagels, and all the rest of the hard-working farmers out there).


So here goes: the first ever Farm Dinner Food and Wine Pairing Post:

Monday, 6.8.09

Course 1: Chickpea fritters with wild arugula, green olives, tomato conserva, and caprinella

Preliminary Pairings: NV Bele Casel Prosecco, 2007 Di'Antiche Terre Greco di Tufo

"Fritter"? 'Nuff said--sparkling wine. (Have you ever tried Champagne and fried chicken? If not, get thee to a Harold's immediately). Our Prosecco--a juicy sparkler with slight citrus notes by Bele Casel, would lend itself beautifully to the richness and crunchiness of those little fried bits of goodness. High in acid, the Bele Casel can also stand up to tomatoes and green olives, which are characteristically quite acidic as well.

Greco di Tufo is a white grape varietal from southern Italy which has its roots in ancient Greece (hence the name). The '07 Greco di Tufo actually has many of the same qualities as the Bele Casel Prosecco (high acidity, slight citrus quality) but with a touch more mineral flavor, and it is still, not sparkling. Interestingly enough, however, the Greco is so high in acid that at times it appears to be a little effervescent, so it is often my go-to suggestion for people when my original idea is bubbly but someone would rather have a non-sparkler.

Favorite: Bele Casel Prosecco


Course 2: Pan roasted alaskan halibut with snap peas, radishes, capers, risotto, and nasturtium beurre blanc

Preliminary Pairings: 2007 Domaine du Salvard Cheverny Blanc, 2007 Domaine du Salvard Cheverny Rose, 2007 Bertrand Ambroise Bourgogne Rouge

Hmm..... Fish. Always tricky. Folks usually choose white with fish, but often the depth of flavor of red wine matches the accompaniments on a dish more closely. Many times a good compromise is a rose wine, but rose still has a bad reputation in some circles for being too sweet or simple. Lucky for us at Lula, our roses are always awesome (usually small batch productions and often times organic) so they are some of our favorite wines to pair.

Anyway, I decided to choose a white, a rose, and a red to taste with the second course. The accompaniments definitely said "white or rose" to me (especially the nasturtium beurre blanc with a rose--how great does that sound?), but I did want to present a red choice for those guests who don't enjoy white wine. Also, I had an inkling that the pan-roastiness of the halibut (not to mention that halibut is a heartier, meatier fish) would taste delicious with a juicy, earthy, and light-bodied red (and the Ambroise is all three).

So the two Cheverny wines (From the Loire Valley):

The Cheverny Blanc is a 90% sauvignon blanc / 10% chardonnay blend, with the sauvignon lending most of the fruit and the chard adding a little bit of extra body and backbone. As with most Loire wines, the Cheverny Blanc has a super-aromatic nose but tends to be fairly restrained on the palate with plenty of slatey mineral flavors and high acidity. I thought that the floral aromas would buddy up to the nasturtiums in the beurre blanc, and the acid and citrus flavors would showcase the halibut and its back-up singers to their best advantage.

The Cheverny Rose is 100% pinot noir (remember, the color of wine has to do with grape skin contact during fermentation), and contains many of the qualities we associate with fully red pinot--some cherry fruit, a little earth, maybe some crushed violets.... But the Chev Rose certainly doesn't let you forget it is from the Loire Valley--notes of honeysuckle and slate are also present. This wine is a Lula staff favorite and it didn't disappoint this time around. All the elements were perfectly in sync, especially the floral qualities and the juicy fruit.

The Bertrand Ambriose Bourgogne Rouge came as a bit of a surprise, as it was our first time tasting the 2007 vintage (the 2004 and 2005 vintages have been on the wine list at Lula and long time pairing stand-bys). All of the usual Ambroise attributes were there: delicate flavors of cherry and earth (not exactly barnyard, but definitely something a little dusty or musty), juicy mouthfeel, and slight dried flower notes. But there was also a little hint of cola (a characteristic often find in Oregon pinots) as well as a little bit fuller body and complex layers. Yay! This wine is fantastic and totally allowed the halibut dish to shine.

Favorites: Cheverny Rose, Ambroise Bourgogne Rouge

Course 3: Prairie Fruits Farm sheep's milk cheese cake with dried apricot and basil

Preliminary Pairing: 2008 Saracco Moscato d' Asti

Wow. Cake made from artisanal sheep's cheese? Hell yeah. Melissa (pastry chef extraordinaire) told me she folded a bit of meringue into the cake batter to change the texture of the final product from your typical uber-creamy cheesecake into something a little more spongey or souffle-like. Cool. So my thoughts (as they so often do) turned to sparkling wine. (If the cheesecake had been traditional in texture I think I would've gone in the direction of still wine... but maybe for a different day...) Of course, it is dessert so the sparkler has to be sweet. Our Saracco Moscato did the trick! Yummy lemonade and juicy melon flavors made a party-in-the-mouth with the light-as-air cake (Melissa added lemon juice to the batter, too, so the citrus notes matched up there as well) and the apricot sorbet on the side. I cannot verbally do justice to how good this pairing is.

Favorite: Saracco Moscato

For those of you who got to eat Farm Dinner before we sold out, lucky you. For those who didn't, come on in this week and have a taste of the Bele Casel, the Greco di Tufo, the Bourgogne Rouge, and the Saracco (we sold out of the Cheverny Rose but we have plenty of other lovely roses to offer). I'm not sure whether or not the Farm Dinner items will be on the Dinner Specials menu yet, but check lulacafe.com for updates or just give us a call!

That's your week in wine! Until next Tuesday, e-kisses to all.

Lula Cafe 2537 n Kedzie Blvd Chicago IL 60647 773.489.9554 lulacafe.com