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Sting’s Message In A Bottle Rings True 37 Years Later

Those were the days of playgrounds and Catholic school uniforms.  The days of tape recorders and hitting play on our favorite songs under the backdrop of a big oak tree at recess.  Those songs were mostly sung by our absolute favorite band, The Police.

It was right before the years of teenage angst, but enough where these words of “Message in a Bottle” still resonated the awkwardness of middle school:

“I’ll send an SOS to the world
I’ll send an SOS to the world
I hope that someone gets my
Message in a bottle”

In those years, The Police and Sting were a major part of the backdrop of my childhood and I remained a fan as I grew older.  Fast forward almost 37 years and I found myself enjoying yet another passion of a singer that I admire – the tasting of Il Palacio Wines, the winery he now owns with his wife, Trudie Styler.  Ironically, I recently found he made one which I have not tasted but is named after that particular song.

Official Geek Moment of Realizing the Source of the Customs Paperwork

My friend and fellow blogger, Michelle Williams of Rockin Red Blog joined me to try these hard to get stateside wines from Il Palagio.

Il Palagio is located in Tuscany near the medieval town of Figline Valdarno, once known as the “barn of Florence” for its production of corn, grain, wine, oil, beets, peaches, apricots and cherries.  The estate is 350 hectares and has been farmed since the late 1700s beginning with the Martelli family.

In 1819, the Countess Carlotta Barbolani of Montauto bought the property and the family ran it for 150 years.  At the beginning of the twentieth century Duke Simone Vincenzo Velluti Zati di San Clemente expanded the estate with a grain store, oil mill and wine production area. However, it had fallen disrepair when Sting and Trudie found it in 1999 and they restored it to its former glory.

They hired Alan York, a well-known biodynamic consultant, Paolo Caciorgna, a highly-regarded oenologist, and Paolo Rossi, the estate manager, to oversee production of the estate.

We tried three red wines — Sister Moon, When We Dance, and Casino delle Vie.

2015 When We Dance – A drinkable red named after Sting’s song “When We Dance” that is blended with Sangiovese, Canaiolo and Colorino grapes.  It is soft, fruity, a little spicy and very drinkable red blend with notes of cherry and cranberry.

2014 Sister Moon — Named after Sting’s song “Sister Moon” this was the first IGT Toscano wine produced.  This was more complex with dark cherry, floral notes and cassis.  I also got some black pepper and black licorice.  It is a blend of Sangiovese, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.

2014 Casino Delle Vie 2014 — This wine is named after a property on the estate and when translated it means “little house by the roads”.  It also can be translated philosophically to talk about the different paths taking in life.  This was elegant with many of the same notes of Sister Moon, but with a little more depth and elegance.



Decent Glass of Wine At A Chain Series: Russo’s Coal Fired Italian


As a part of my ongoing and often sporadic “Can You Get a Decent Glass of Wine from a Chain Restaurant” series, I was invited to Russo’s Coal Fired Italian Kitchen, a chain of more than 25 Italian restaurants.  I’d never been to Russo’s before and so I made the ride to Richardson, TX, with my friend, David, who graciously agreed to be a part of the taste experience.

This series started after I told my husband that I did not want to meet him for drinks after work at Mi Cocina due their very pedestrian wine list.  While I have been pleasantly surprised  with the results of this series (I’ve had two good experiences at Cafe Express and The Olive Garden),  I wasn’t sure what to expect from a pizza and pasta chain.  Again, I found that I need to check my pre-conceived notions at the door.  

We were warmly greeted by Chris Demers, director of operations for Russo’s, who began talking passionately about the wine program.  Russo’s offers twelve wines by the glass — one prosecco, five whites and six reds — and ten of those rotate monthly.  All of these wines retail for $7 for a 5 oz. pour.  When we visited the restaurant, there were some other specials including Ferrari Carano for $6 and Masi for $9.  Demers has a background of helping bring The Wine Loft, a national wine bar concept, to fruition so when he came to work at Russo’s he immediately overhauled the wine program.


He told us that, overall, Richardson (Dallas) wine drinkers were adventurous and while he needed to have some traditional Italian Chianti’s and Pinot Grigio’s on the menu, people were also willing to try Argentian Malbec and Chilean Sauvignon Blanc.  After checking his website, we realized the list Demers has is different from the Russo’s wine list.  That is by design.  Half of these wines aren’t available via retail as he’s trying to encourage a positive adventure in wine for his diners.  It is paying off — since he overhauled the wine program, sales are up over 50 percent.  There has only been one exception — Mark West Pinot Noir.  He tried to replace this crowd favorite and quickly realized it was a sacred cow.



Here’s the line-up that we had the night of our tasting:


  • Cavit – Lunetta Prosecco 09.  I tasted peach and pear with a mineral ending.  A very nice drinkable sparkling to start your meal.
  • Castegio – Pinot Grigio 10.  This is a crisp and tart pinot grigio.  This grape isn’t my usual first choice in wine, but it was a good representation.
  • De Martino – Sauvignon Blanc 10 (Chile).  This was my favorite white.  Lots of citrus and pineapple, but with the minerality that I like.  If I tasted this blindly, I would have said this was a sauvignon blanc from New Zealand.  Note this one is very hard to find in Dallas.
  • Alias – Chardonnay 09 (California).  Loved the story behind this project by eight un-named wine makers who wanted to make a good wine.  This was made in Old World style with lemon, tropical fruits and honey, but without being a butter bomb.  This was David’s favorite white and a very nice chardonnay.
  • Chateau Ste. Michelle – Riesling 10 (Washington State).  Always a critics’ favorite — especially at this price range — this had lots of stone fruit flavor and was a great value riesling.


  • Mark West – Pinot Noir 09 (California).  The people have spoken.  No comment.
  • Ruffino – Sangiovese 10 (Chianti).  You have to have a by the glass chianti, but there are much better options on the list.
  • Ca’Momi – Merlot 09 (Napa).  This is one of them.  A big jammy, food-friendly wine with notes of plum, cherry and menthol.  A really nice merlot and David’s favorite red.
  • Altos – Malbec Classico 10 (Mendoza).  A very nice representation of a Malbec with vanilla, mocha and chocolate. 
  • Blackburn – Cabernet Sauvignon 08 (Paso Robles).  Run, do not walk and see if you can find this wine in Dallas (if I don’t buy it all first).  This drank like a $30 cab and was off the charts good.  Big notes of plum, cherry, earth and menthol.  


We also got to sample a few of the menu items, prosciutto with buffalo mozzarella, which I didn’t try because I’m allergic to pork, and the spinach and artichoke dip, which was off the charts good.  My advice for you is to come from 3-6 for Happy Hour or on Wednesday’s when wines are $5.  Order the dip and the Blackburn and savor the fact that not only can you get a good glass of wine from a chain, but you have found a cabernet that is a fantastic price to taste ratio.


Food/Wine Matches Made in Heaven: The Mustard Surprise

A long-awaited gathering of our wine club took place this month with a fun theme – food/wine matches made in heaven.  Ok, technically that wasn’t the theme, but when it worked, it was a good description.  We were all assigned food pairings to bring and the wine was taken care of by the couple hosting the party.  Because my husband was out of town and I don’t cook, I begged for ingredients that required little to no assembly.  So, I came bearing foie gras pate, a baguette and black truffle butter.

Lego Land 039

The format was to pair two wines with variations of one food.  Our first pairing was an Old World Chablis (08 Isabelle et Denis Pommier Chablis) and a traditional oaked chardonnay (09 Neyers Carneros) with  smoked and fresh mozzarella.  Hands down the smoked mozzarella went best with the Neyers and we all couldn’t come to an agreement about the Chablis pairing due to the citrus/mineral notes.

Lego Land 040

Our next pairing was my favorite – fabulous yellowtail and tuna sushi along with blinis and caviar matched with  Iron Horse Sparkling and 10 Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand.  I liked them both, but was surprised how versatile the sauvignon blanc was with the sushi. 

Lego Land 041

The next pairing was a surprise to us all.  We tried sausage (veggie and Italian) paired with Dijon mustard and then just crackers with mustard coupled with 08 Domaine Zind Humbrecht Pinot Blanc and the 07 Chianti Castilla.  Who would have thought that my second favorite pairing would be Dijon mustard and crackers? 

Lego Land 042

We followed with black bean burgers with a sour cream/lime sauce with onion rings paired with 10 Les Plautiers Du Haut Brion White Bordeaux and the same Chianti.  The onion ring paired well with the white, not the red.  The black bean burgers, which were fantastic on their own, were even heartier with the chianti.

Lego Land 043

We then matched a guacamole and tenderloin with chimicurri sauce with a 05 Samuels Gorge Syrah and the 05 Abel Rioja.  I personally liked the tenderloin and rioja pairing better, but it was interesting to see what flavors the guacamole brought out in both wines.

Lego Land 044

Next, we paired a simple grilled piece of baguette with black truffle butter with a 05 Chauvernet Chopin Nuis St Georges fer Cru Burgundy.  This was a classic example of the symphony in your mouth that happens with the right food and wine pairing.  Divine.

 Lego Land 045

Our last pairing was a foie gras with a 05 Chateau La Tour Blanche Donation Osiris.  Bliss on a cracker and another example of a food/wine match that had to be made in heaven.

Wine Quest: Decent Wine at a Chain Search Continues at Olive Garden

Olive Garden Sign

I fully admit that I had some trepidation going back into an Olive Garden Restaurant, especially to taste wine.  But, I had willingly committed to doing a series about the possibility of finding a decent wine by the glass at a chain.  So, I grabbed my friend, Jennifer, and off we went.

Olive Garden Staff

Danny and Jeff

We were met by General Manager, Danny Gabaldon, and Certified Wine Trainer and a guy you want to work for you, Jeff Kidd, and seated in the bar area.  The restaurant had recently been remodeled with a Tuscan influence and was not the dark wood, dark place that I remembered from about 15 years ago.  We were presented with the wine list, which had 38 wines total with 35 offered by the glass at all price ranges.  The wines ranged from the house Cabit to the more interesting Italian wines.  Master Sommelier Andrea Immer Robinson helped create the wine training program for the Olive Garden and you can definitely see her influence.   So I’m sure you wondering which three bottles aren’t available by the glass – Zonin Prosecco , Bertani Amarone Della Valpolicella ($100) and Col d’Orcia Brunello di Montacino ($65).

Olive Garden Fod

Danny pointed out the featured wines list, which changes every six weeks, is matched with seasonal food items.  The wines are 6 oz pours or for another $2.50, they will pour 9 ozs.  The restaurant puts a sticker on each bottle that indicates the day the bottle was opened and when it is no longer consumable.  In addition, air is pumped from each open bottle nightly.  They brought us some bruschetta, Italian cheese and some individual sized desserts and we began to taste. 

Olive Garden White

Olive Garden Wine

We tried the following wines:

  • Rocca delle Macie Sasyr 07, a blend of Sangiovese and Syrah.  This is a very fruity, tangy and easy to drink wine that pairs well with Italian flood.  This was our favorite red wine.
  • Feudo Arancio Nero d’Avola Sicilia IGT 09, cranberry, berry and lots of fruit.
  • Mandra Rossa Fiano 09, nice nose with lots of pear notes with tropical fruit and citrus.  This would be a great pool wine.
  • Pinot Grigio Delle Venezie Sartori di Verona 10, a very typical Pinot Grigio that would pair well with Italian food.

We also sampled the Moscato and the Roscotto, a sweet red made only for Olive Garden, with the desserts.  I think I’m going to stick with my dessert wines favs, but it’s nice to know that these are around when Great Aunt Stella is ready to have some vino.

Olive Garden Jen and Mel

I must say that I’m impressed with the effort that Danny, Jeff and Darden Restaurants are putting effort into making sure diners have the option for a good glass of wine with their meal.  At least at Olive Garden, you can get a decent glass of wine at a chain.  Bravo!

Dallas’ Most Interesting Wine List is at a National Hotel?

Last month I attended the Texas/New York Gridiron wine challenge had the opportunity to sit at a table with Hunter Hammett, sommelier for the Dallas Fairmont Hotel.  Surprisingly enough, our conversation shifted to wine and he told me about the Fairmont’s wine list which he had totally overhauled including a large number of Texas wines.  I was intrigued, so I asked Hunter if I could spend some time with him learning more about the list.

He’s an agreeable guy and very passionate about wine, so I found myself in the totally revamped Pyramid Restaurant & Bar at the Fairmont – with a tasteful local focus on Texas products and a rooftop garden.  I was handed the list, which received a Wine Spectator 2010 Award of Excellence, and like a kid in the candy store, I started perusing.  As Hunter hand-selected the 250 wines that are on the list, it was important find a variety of on and off “the beaten path” wines at any price that patrons would love.  I especially enjoyed the Underrated Reds and Underrated Whites sections that had a number of wines I have enjoyed in small little wine bars or across the country.  I never expected to see them at a restaurant in a national hotel.  You’ll also find grapes you’ve probably never heard of nor had the opportunity to try like Aligoté, at least in Texas, until now. 

Gruet was one of the selections on the Underrated Reds list and I mentioned that I had never tried its still wines.  In short notice, I had a glass of the 06 Gruet Pinot Noir Cuvee Gilbert in hand.  Hunter also had a large selection of wines that are positioned by varietal vs. region to encourage experimentation of all different types of grapes from around the world.

Of course, because this is Texas, you will find the usual big suspect Cabernets -we all know that restaurants have to carry these to please certain patrons.  Also, I believe that having some of the big steakhouse wines gives people the trust factor to try other wines that may not have considered otherwise.  

Wines that are sustainable, organic and environmentally farmed are given special consideration.  You’ll probably see a future focus on building out the French section of the list in 2011.  Hunter’s credo, like The Wine Century Club, is to broaden the wine drinking scope at every opportunity.  I, for one, look forward to my trip around the world with his wine list as my guide.

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