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Jul 24

Happier Hour at the Cricket (and a word of advice)

The other night before taking in Carmen at the Opera, Kevin and I had dinner at The Cricket Lounge, which is the bar in The Cincinnatian attached to The Palace. The new Happier Hour has replaced the Burgers and Beers specials from a month or so ago.

The Happier Hour runs from 4–7 pm and is, for the most part, a really good deal. Our bill was higher than expected, but I’ll get to that in a minute. The Cricket has a pretty good menu and shares a kitchen (as well as Chefs Jose and Summer) with The Palace. You can order half-price Snacks and Appetizers from the bar menu during Happier Hour. Additionally there are daily specials, which often include pretzels and cheese (tasty!) and a burger special, amongst other things. I ordered some tasty BBQ sliders (3 per plate) that were more than filling, and Kevin had the burger. No complaints from us on the food!

Desserts are not included in the Happier Hour. Of course I ordered dessert anyway. In fact, I ordered the Flight of Cupcakes that I love so much, but Summer informed me that I wanted something else. She brought out a trio of chocolate goodies that included a malted mouse (I think) shot with a zebra straw, a mini fudge cake with giant merengue-y chips (I could have lived on those alone), and am amazing ice cream pop, covered in chocolate. Alright, so desserts at The Cincinnatian in general just rock.

Drink specials are the tricky part. Kevin ordered the draft beer (Moerlein) included in the Happier Hour special of 1/2 price draft beers. Also included in the Happier Hour are “$5 Speciality Cocktails.”  This is where you need to be careful and where we were unhappy with our price. Bear in mind, it’s the first time I’ve been unhappy with anything at The Cincinnatian, but I paid $23.50 for my two Manhattans when I expected to pay $11.50. I opened up the bar menu and followed the procedure I used for ordering food. With food, Snacks and Appetizers are clearly listed in the bar menu and you order from those sections to get the 1/2 Happier Hour deal. Applying that logic, I opened the bar menu to Specialty Cocktails and ordered a Manhattan. Midway through dinner, I ordered a second Manhattan, mistakenly believing the drinks were $5.75. 

We asked our server when we got our check and were informed that Manhattans aren’t part of the Speciality Cocktail list for Happier Hour. You have to ask for a special list of Specialty Cocktails. Yes, the Specialty Cocktails in the menu apparently aren’t special enough.

So, I recommend the Happier Hour as the food and beer prices are great. (House wine is also half price.) But before you order a Specialty Cocktail, specifically ask your server which cocktails are really on special.

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Posted by Michelle at 10:20 am in Cincinnati, Cocktails, Food and Drink | Permalink | Comments (2)
Jul 23

Recession Wines: Tips and Tricks (Repost)

In honor of BlogHer and the Food (and Wine) Blogging in a Recession panel, I'm re-posting my original Recession Wine Tips & Tricks – originally from the end of 2008. Cheers!
____

WinesaleAdmit it folks, the economy has got you down. Here we are, moving into
a new year, and all they can talk about on the news is war and
depression. It's enough to send you into a bottle – but those bottles
are expensive! Oh what to do?

Fear not, Wine-Girl is coming to the rescue. At
the beginning of 2009, we'll be launching a new occasional series called Recession Wines.

Every so often, we'll review a low-cost wine – preferably under $10, but definitely under $15. Remember my $10 and Under
post from October? You had some great suggestions for us in those
comments. I would love it if you'd add even more to this post. (Or
email me. I know, you all are tentative about comments but you love the
email.)

In the meantime, I want to offer out two different tips for drinking wine when the money is tight:

  • Enjoy those wine tastings. As I often say, wine tastings in
    Kentucky are free. In Ohio, they are generally less than $5, usually
    around $1. Heck, Bigg's Skytop offers a gourmet meal of samples as well
    as full pours of 5-6 wines each week for only $10. And you can split a
    tasting with someone else. Tastings are a great way to get to know what
    wines you like. In many cases, they will be low-cost wines anyway. In
    other cases, you'll be getting to try wines you might never afford in
    other circumstances. So go out there and enjoy the tastings!  Don't
    forget to take notes so that you can buy those wines later, when a
    paycheck is just burning a hole in your purse.
  • Closeouts. Oh, what a spectacular deal are closeouts! At
    Liquor Direct, they have an entire wall of closeouts – 2 for $10, 3 for
    $20. At Party Source, just ask someone. They will show you excitedly
    what is on closeout. You see, closeouts aren't necessarily bad wine or
    old wine. In many cases, closeouts are when a winery is redesigning a
    label or when a distributor is dropping a wine. Jump on these. Don't be
    afraid to ask at your local wine shop. In my experience, the retailers
    are just as excited about the closeouts as you are, and eager to share.
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Posted by Michelle at 2:00 pm in Recession Wine | Permalink | Comments ()
Jul 23

A Big BlogHer Welcome

I'm now in Chicago at BlogHer. I'm lucky enough to speak on a panel on Saturday on Food Blogging (and Wine Blogging, dammit) in a Recession.

So if you ran into me at BlogHer, well, let me show you around the site a bit.

Wine Events: I am speaking on Wine Blogging in a recession, and one of the best ways to enjoy a wide range of wine types (and prices) during a recession is to go to a wine tasting. In Kentucky, the recurring tastings are generally free and in Ohio there is a small charge (sometimes as low as 25 cents, sometimes as much as $5). Additionally, there is a wide swath of special events that occur. Maybe they coincide with one of your own special events so you can justify the cost of a winemaker dinner.

Food & Wine Pairing: My friend Natalie MacLean developed a pretty cool wine/food pairing tool and I embedded it on the site. You can access it anytime from the toolbar at the top. It works in two ways – what kind of wine do you want? and what sort of food do you want? (There's also an iPhone version of the tool in the iTunes Store.)

Recession Wines: Sticking with the theme, whenever I come across a wine that is both a great deal and gets a great view, I tag it as a Recession Wine. Feel free to check out the category and see that you can add good wine to your home-cooked meal for a rather affordable price.

Wine Maps: If you're anywhere near the Cincinnati area – even within a
few hours – it's worth a visit to come learn about our amazing
Ohio/Kentucky/Indiana wineries. You can access all sorts of local
winery trails (and wine tasting trails) on our maps page.

Thanks for visiting! 

Cheers,
Michelle

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Posted by Michelle at 9:00 am in Wine Blogs, Wine Notes | Permalink | Comments ()
Jul 22

Osake: Artisan Sake Maker on Granville Island, Vancouver

For those new to the blog, occasionally my husband Kevin chimes in with beer and spirits posts. Since I'm not a sake fan, he's covering that as well, including our recent trip to a sake maker in Vancouver.
__

On our recent vacation to the northwest, one of the places Michelle, Steven (my younger brother) and I went to was Osake Artisan Sake Maker on Granville Island in Vancouver, British Columbia. I had not heard of Osake sake prior to arriving at the hotel and reading through Where magazine. Osake is reported to have been the first sake made in Canada. Armed with that knowledge and a rough idea of where we were going, we took left out of our hotel, walked down Jervis street to Sunset Beach where we picked up the Water Taxi to Granville Island.

On Granville Island, we explored the amazing Public Market before heading to the Artisan Sake shop. The sake tasting area is next to the tanks used to by the distillers which adds a nice level of ambiance to the tasting. Steven and Michelle were able to sit at the street-facing bar and people watch while I delved into the tasting. All sakes were served cold and there were 5 different types of sake available, the two premiums were $2 each and a flight of the 3 entry levels was $5. (All prices in Canadian dollars.)

I started with the Ginjo Genshu. The use of Ginjo means that 40% of the rice was ground away and only the remaining center was used in the distilling of the sake. Genshu means the sake was undiluted and can pack a slight punch.

The Genshu was a filtered sake resulting in a clear drink that had a lot of plum sauce characteristics. This was awarded a spot in the top 100 wines of 2008 by the Vancouver Magazine International Wine Competition. Overall I liked the well rounded flavor and sweetness. Michelle also tolerated this one (she's not a sake fan) and we paid it the highest compliment any traveler can give on a trip: we bought a bottle. At $25 for a 375 mL bottle, this was expensive but worth the price and hassle of bringing it home with us.
My review:

Second was the Ginjo Nigori. Nigori implies cloudy due to no filtration done once the sake is made. This has a chewier texture, as expected in a nigori sake, and a nice long bitter finish. In comparison to other nigori sake, my thought is that this one had a touch more ripe melon flavors and less creaminess. Once again, I enjoyed the overall experience, while Steven and Michelle were slightly less thrilled. Once again $25 a bottle is reasonable pricing for the small batch quailty sake. Both ginjos were aged for 1 year in bottle, while the junmai were aged 2 to 3 months.
My review:

I ended with a flight of the three entry level (junmai) sakes. For junmai, 30% of the rice is milled away and no alchohal is added in the process of creating the sake. The first I treid was Junmai Nama Genshu which was a nice entry level sake and at $35 for a 750 mL bottle is once again a very nice value. The main flavors were along the papaya and graininess expected. I thought the ginjo had a more vibrant plum flavor, but this would also have paired well with a lean steak or a rick meat like duck.

Second in the flight was Junmai Nama which seemed to have higher acid. The slight lime flavor and very little creaminess made me think grilled shrimp would be a very nice food pairing. In comparison to the others, this was probably my least favorite, but still ranks as a nice entry. At $27 for 750 mL, the quality/value ratio is there, but not at the same level as the other options.

Finally, I tried the Junmai Nama Nigori, which had a very nice melon flavor from start to finish. This one costs $29 for 750 mL and is again a nice value for sipping. This was the "ricey-est" of all the sakes due to the nigori style and was closest to what I have tried in the past.

For each of these three, my review is a .

Overall, the trip to Granville Island was worth it just for seeing a sake house. Luckily the small batch products that were created were enjoyable. Sadly, they did not have an open bottle of their sparkling sake, which I would have loved to try. $24 a bottle was a little high to buy without first trying it, but it is still on my list to try when I return to Granville Island, as we do hope to return to Vancouver.

 - Kevin

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Posted by Michelle at 8:00 am in Spirits, Tastings, Wine Notes, Wine Shops, Wineries | Permalink | Comments ()
Jul 21

Glassware Matters Part 2: We Can’t All Afford Riedel

I've written print articles on choosing the correct glassware. But I tend to focus on regular,
affordable glassware – not Riedel. It's important to note that wine
will always taste better in the proper glass, whether it's Riedel or
not. Riedel glasses just take things to a different level.

We can't all afford Riedel. If you're like me, you've got some Riedel, but you don't pull it out all the time for fear of breakage and the pain in the butt of cleaning it. So here are just some general glassware tips that apply even to those Joker glasses. Whether Riedel or not, glassware makes a huge difference in how a wine tastes and smells.

Admittedly, I've read articles and studies that dispute this, but when you think about it, it makes sense. A glass can direct where the liquid hits your tongue and you have vaguely different taste sensations on different regions of your tongue (although the tongue map itself has been debunked). The same with smell – it's common sense that a larger bowl will release more aroma than a closed in bowl. On top of that, we've tried this at home countless times. Cabernet doesn't taste as good from a Champagne flute, etc. Try it – you'll be surprised.


The differences in glass shape can be subtle and include the
depth, width and overall curve of the glass. The size of the bowl determines
how much or how little liquid can be swirled, affecting exposure to the air.
The shape and thickness of the rim directs the wine to specific parts of the
tongue with different taste sensitivities. Finally, the diameter of the opening
concentrates or expands the wine’s bouquet.
  • Red wine glasses are characterized by their larger bowls, often
    compared to the shape of a balloon. The wider bowl helps accumulate the aromas
    and aerate the wine.
  • A white wine glass often has a smaller bowl and straighter sides,
    shaped similar to a tulip. The smaller shape allows less air to circulate, and
    has less effect on the chilled temperature of the wine.
  • Champagne and sparkling wine are best drunk from flutes. A flute
    allows the wine to bubble from a single source at the bottom. The coupe, which is a flatter style glass
    with an open mouth, is not recommended as it lets air, and bubbles, escape the
    glass.

Buying a stemware set for each varietal can get expensive. In
fact, professional tasters and wine judges use just one type of glass. In an
all-purpose wine glass, you only need a couple of things:


  • Clear
    glass.
    Clear glass, as opposed to tinted, allows you to view the color of
    the wine, which you often can’t do in the bottle. The color of the wine can
    often be a tip as to whether the wine has gone bad. For this reason, you also
    want to avoid cut-glass and heavy crystal. Save those decorated glasses for
    iced tea and water.
  • Shape.
    A glass with a tulip-shaped bowl is important. The curve helps hold the bouquet
    of the wine. The bowl should also be large enough so that you can swirl the
    wine without spilling. Generally, the opening of the glass should not be larger
    than the widest part of the bowl.
  • Thin rim.
    A wine glass rim should hardly be noticeable and should never impede the
    wine from reaching your mouth. A glass with a thick rim can get in the way of
    the wine. The rim, along with the shape of the glass, can help direct where the
    wine hits your tongue.
  • Stem.
    The breakable stem on a wine glass actually serves a purpose. It allows you to
    hold the glass without affecting the temperature of the wine. If you hold a
    wine glass by the bowl, the warmth of your hands will warm up the wine. The
    best wine glasses have stems that were obviously pulled from the bowl, which
    adds stability and strength, despite the fragile appearance.

No matter what wine glass you choose, take care when washing the
glasses. Wine glasses can hold the scent of your dishwashing detergent and the
detergent may also leave a residue. For your better glasses, eschew soap
altogether. Treat your  stemware as
you might a fine cashmere sweater. Wash your stemware by hand under hot water
and hang to dry.

When it comes down to it, you can drink wine out of a jelly glass
if need be. But to best expose the flavors and colors of the wine, you want to
pay a little attention to your glassware. A basic collection should include
several tulip-shaped, all-purpose glasses, as well as some champagne flutes. A
more tailored collection that won’t break the bank might include 2-4
balloon-shaped glasses for red wine, 2-4 tulip-shapes for whites, and several
champagne flutes.

Glassmakers at Riedel follow the maxim that content determines
shape, and form follows function. While the type of glass may enhance the
experience, remember that the contents of the glass is what is truly important.
A friend of mine made the comment that she will “drink my wine out of a dixie
cup if I must. What’s important is the wine!” Let’s raise a glass to that!

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Posted by Michelle at 8:15 am in Knowledge, Tastings, Wine Misc, Wine Tech | Permalink | Comments (6)

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