the beauty of the half bottle.

Wine Blog, wisconsin

Bigger is better. At least, that was what I learned growing up in the country farms turned ‘burbs of Wisconsin, where every other mom drove an SUV and weekends often involved a trip to Sam’s Club for behemoth tubs of cheese puffs and frozen lasagna. Little did I know that my life would see the full spectrum–from Jumbo packs of processed food to the current locavore fanaticism that has consumed culture. When I was young, my options were red, yellow or green when it came to which apple I wanted in my lunch. Now, I can choose from Jazz, Pink Lady, Honeycrisp or Gala. To know the difference isn’t so much an art as it is an expectation. Bulk items no longer refer to 20 pack bundles of Ramen; they now involve pretty plastic bins of nuts, grains and flour in hopes to reduce waste.

Out of habit, my first years of college had me reaching for a huge cart at the store, as though I were feeding an army. But with time, and a stint living in New York City, I slowly changed my ways, as did the world around me, it seemed. Hand baskets became vogue, as did shopping only for what you needed for the next 48 hours. Fresh, local and artisinal is the way now. And while it is certainly healthier, it seems, my pocketbook is happier, too. I don’t waste so much in the pantry waiting for the next Depression.

This got me thinking about wine. How often, like me, do you find yourself pouring excess wine down the drain. At once berating yourself for the vino abuse, whilst simultaneously a little proud your restraint has resulted in less fuzzy morning conditions? Or perhaps it is merely a reflection of the A.D.D. we all seem to share these days thanks to the internet, HD TV and video games, resulting in several half-opened wines due to a certain meal, mood or time of day. Whatever the reason, I hate knowing that wine was wasted.

That’s why I am growing more fond of the half-bottle. These 375 ml of goodness are perfect for so many reasons. My love for them really began in New York. People might grab a half of bubbles just to start out a celebration without a full commitment to a bottle. Maybe it was for a quick slurp in the cab ride on the way to an event. Others just needed a dab for a dish as they sipped on the rest while cooking.

When I am by myself for dinner, it forces me to not even think about going beyond 2 glasses–a decision that will undoubtedly have me waking up at 3 in the morning like clockwork (what the heck? early onset menopause?). Or, when I am with my guy, we can have a first course with white and our main course with red. It allows real geeks to try a couple wines with a dish just to see how different varietals pair.

Another great reason for buying half bottles, you can taste a wine that might typically cost you a day’s pay at nearly half the price. This is an excellent way to try Burgundies, Bordeaux and Barolos from a variety of subregions and producers that would otherwise be extremely difficult to afford with any regularity. With Christmas dinner, for example, we had a 2000 Lopez de Heredia Tondonia Reserva for only $25 (regularly $45 for the 750 ml) just to have another option on the table that was interesting with goose. It showed deepened notes of caramelization, sandalwood and cherry tobacco.

Getting impatient for that 07 Chateauneuf du Pape? Grab a half bottle. They age faster and are starting to drink beautifully. I just had a Lucien Barrot CdP for only $15 that was outstanding for the dollar! Same with the 07 rhone style Cigare Volant by Bonny Doon–an absolute gem right now in the half. The full is damn fine…but a baby. Friends don’t let friends commit infanticide.

There are dozens of other reasons a half is ideal: picnics, camping, stocking stuffers, they are cute, great candle holders, perfect for olive oils, homemade dressings and balsamic. 375’s are a great way to explore a world of wine and half the price.

At my shop, here is a short list of what you can stock up on. For the months of February & March, resolve to learn more via 375s at 5% off a cute little bottle. Build a little 6 pack, and you will get 10% off!

2009 Perez Cruz Cabernet (Chile)- $7

2009 Roger Champault Sancerre (France)- $14

2002 Lopez de Heredia Cubillo Rioja (Spain)- $18

2007 Lucien Barrot Chateauneuf du Pape (France)- $15

2010 Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc (New Zealand)- $9

2010 Alberti 154 Malbec (Argentina)- $9

2007 Bonny Doon Cigare Volant (California)- $21

2007 Cargisacchi Pinot Noir (California)- $20

2008 Hitching Post Pinot Noir (California)- $20

NV Chartogne-Taillet Champagne 1er Cru (France)- $29

NV Gruet Rose & Blancs des Noirs (New Mexico)- $9

2008 Hurricane Ridge Merlot (Washington)-$13

2008 Selbach-Oster Riesling Kabinett (Germany)- $14

2008 Raspail Ay Gigondas (France)- $20

euro scribbles: buckwheat… a regional delicacy (and death trap).

travel, Wine Travel, wisconsin

After fighting with sleep and losing, aboard the train back to Milan where I leave tomorrow, Jonathan wakes me to view one of the most magnificent sights in the world: Lago di Como. This tranquil mass of water surrounded by mountains is just settling in before sunset, nodding off the light and welcoming the dark. Little fishing boats near shore might make one forget it is January at all. Its sheer brilliance may also make one forget the day’s trials, when all at once the burning in my throat does not.

Aboard the Bernina Express...

Just a couple hours ago, after a most unwritable journey down the Alps of Engadin (St. Moritz) on the Bernina Express into the Italian border town of Torino, Jonathan and I strolled our suitcases about a half mile or so from the station to a little restaurant, La Botte, where we were recommended to eat just next to the grand Basilica della Madonna. Here, we would find the ‘tipico’ food from the region, their pasta specialty called pizzoccheri as well as their dried, thin meat called bresaola. A sucker for regional dishes, we were there as soon as our feet hit the Tirano ground. La Botte sadly was closed. But we went to the restaurant next door which seemed promising, Albergo Altavilla. There we saw the travelers who were on board with us down the slope. They were from northern Illinois. Jonathan called that one within 12 seconds of a sharing a panoramic view car with them on the train. He called them ‘my people’. I laughed, because they were very much like me: chatty (I swear, they couldn’t let 2 seconds pass in silence), jolly and hypochondriatic (if that’s even a word). Go ahead and listen to someone in and around northern Illinois or southern Wisconsin just once. With age, we talk about our bodies, illnesses and diseases more each year. We can diagnose better than any doctor around and suggest medicine for it as well. After a couple hours of listening to walleye fishing stories and Barbara’s inevitable looming divorce (with the obligatory ‘I hate to gossip, but…’), we had much fun imitating on the walk to lunch.

The famous Brusio Viaduct.

We sat down at Albergo Altavilla and ordered the 4-course regional lunch, which would give us our pizzocheri noodles and bresaola (like beef prosciutto). We overheard the midwesterners order pizza, extremely disappointed and shocked to hear that these (northern) Italians hadn’t caught on to what made their country such a great hit. Alas, they ordered regular pasta with red sauce–a safe alternative.

Our demi-bottle of Valtellina Nebbiolo, a wonderfully silky textured, fruity red (nothing at all like Piemonte’s version) seemed a perfect choice with what was to come. We had just seen some vineyards outside town, so the choice was a no brainer (not that there were many more to be honest). We dug into the first course: Chiscioi Tiranesi con Cicoria, a kind of fried breaded cheese patty with a side salad. There were three of them. I wolfed down two in a matter of seconds. I was starving. Meanwhile, I noticed my partner clear his throat and get that look in his eye.

‘What’s wrong?’ I ask with trepidation…

‘Nothing… I think.’ He clears his throat again, heavy in thought.


‘Well,’ he explains, “There may be a little buckwheat in this breading. Probably not, but…My tongue is starting to tingle…”

See, we are both quite allergic to the black, deadly flour. I begin to panic as I look down and see my near demolished plate. We frantically google ‘Tirano buckwheat food’ and there it is. Countless sights discussing this region’s famous Alpine dishes, such as pizzoccheri and chiscioi, made with hearty, buckwheat flour: ‘For hardcore buckwheat lovers ONLY!’


First he goes to, well, rid himself of the infestation in the bathroom before it gets too bad. Then it is my turn. We cancel our order for lethal pizzoccheri and opt instead for plain, potato gnocchi with red sauce, a safe choice. The staff was wonderful and very responsive, confirming that yes indeed there is a lot of buckwheat in their cuisine and of course they would accommodate.

My throat is still suffering from the experience, the black flour having penetrated its sides and swollen it within minutes. We were so fortunate he called it so soon. Even as I write this, I can scarcely swallow well. It is the only allergy I have that is so severe. I break into hives, fall asleep, swell up. And Jonathan is arguably worse. A strange star-crossed syndrome we both somehow share.

Death on a platter.

Our highly anticipated lunch became sparkling water, Benadryl  and gnocchi, followed by a hazy train ride to Milan. But even with that, we found a way to laugh about our high maintenance, wussy allergies, complete with a backdrop of beautiful lake Como.

Old Fashioned Christmas in Wisconsin.

spirits, travel, Wine Travel, wisconsin

Something changed during this last visit to Milwaukee. It’s like it suddenly became cool. Overnight it found its stride. With mid-century modern design sweeping the nations’ subconscious collective aesthetic, supper clubs and Manhattans suddenly feel like the right thing to do. But it’s more than mere recycling of time and trends, an age old pattern that is inevitable. Right now, even such metropoles as New York and LA are embracing these midwestern traditions. My last visit to the big city, and suddenly bartenders not only knew what a Brandy Old Fashioned was, they had it at the top of their cocktail list. Comfort food is dominating chic restaurant menus. My thought would be that this speaks to a cultural desire to find community amidst chaos. Simplicity and wholesome sensibilities. Budget friendly things to do and familiar places to hang out.

We got a little taste of tradition on this past visit to Wisconsin. We hadn’t long, but here are a few recommendations if you are looking to get back to a simpler time, or at least, an approximation.

Jackson Grill: We left the supper club choice up to our friends, and they scored big. This restaurant was plopped on the corner of some seemingly random street not far from the Milwaukee Brewer Stadium in the middle of a residential neighborhood. One lit tree, golden old school block address stickers above the door and a simple sign told us we were there. Inside, the atmosphere was warm. It was dim, old Christmas carols were playing, a string of lights made the wooden bar feel festive, and we were seated in a room of about 7 tables with massive snowflakes dangling from the ceiling. The walls were some kind of wood or cork, we couldn’t decipher. Here, there is no wine list. You get an old fashioned, a manhattan, a beer, red or white wine. Everything we ordered was delicious, but my friend and I were eyeing our partner’s choices: pork chop and baby back ribs (oh my God, these were good). Never mind the bartender massaging the chef’s shoulders on your way to the bathroom. They are, uhhh, family here?

Milwaukee , Jackson Grill

(photo borrowed from:

Milwaukee Street Traders: Tucked down a Lang-lined side street in old downtown Delafield, ‘Traders’, as the locals call it, always seems to be bustling with people of all ages, no matter what time of day. They seem to do it just right for a quaint cafe. They have a lovely offering of homemade quiches, muffins, oatmeal, sandwiches and soups. The surroundings recall old school midwestern paraphernalia, books and board games. It is comfortable. It’s just the places I would go after sledding all day for a hot cocoa.

Red Circle Inn: Word has it this was where the first bar was built in Wisconsin, as it dates back to 1848. We were saddened to find that the ancient bar was removed, parceled and its remnants were to be found in the upper level for private events. Saddened at the white acrylic looking bar (this was to make customers feel it was more ‘in the now’—uhhhh, right), we ordered our cocktails. A one man show was singing old jazz standards who went by the name “Back in the Day Dan”. He was our saving grace. He had an awesome voice, and they made some tasty drinks. Overall, it was really fun, and we would go back.

LeDucs: This is my standby whenever I go back home. They make the best custard vanilla malts for miles. In my humble opinion, better than even the all-famous Kopp’s. I learned this time ’round that they have a pretty mean fish fry everyday of the week as well. Battered in beer like a good ‘sconi cod, we were happier than fat kids at Willy Wonka’s factory with this lunch.

Le Ducs Frozen Custard provides restaurants, family restaurant, desserts, ice cream, ice cream sundae, hot dogs, shakes, sandwiches for Wales, Waukesha, Milwaukee, Delafield, North Prairie, Nashotah, Dousman, Hartland, Oconomowoc Lake, Chenequa, Okauchee Lake and neighboring Wisconsin communities.

Lapham Peak: Unfortunately, we are not invincible to the calories found in custard, fish fries, baby back ribs and eggnog. We went on an awesome run at this local park run by the Department of Natural Resources. The area is noted for its deep kettles and high moraines, hence my high school was Kettle Moraine. We felt it for sure, but it was just what we needed. If you want to go on leisurely walk, there are numerous trail options, a lovely pond at Hawk’s Hollow, you can hike up to the Tower, which serves to be the higher point in Waukesha County–an outstanding view in Autumn! Also, if you like Nordic skiing or mountain biking, this region offers some of the best!

How to make a damn fine ol’ fashioned: Before heading to the supper club, we met for old fashioneds at my friends’ mid-century modern home in Wauwatosa. Their furniture fit the mold perfectly. It was one of the best homes I have seen in a while. They made me the best Brandy Old Fashioned I have ever had. Honestly. And they even shared the recipe…

4 ice cubes in a double old fashioned glass

3 dashes of bitters (they prefer Fee Brothers, made in Rotchester NY)

1 or 2 splashes or Grenadine or cherry juice from the jar

A squirt of a fresh orange slice

2 shots of Brandy (higher quality the better)

Top off with 7-up. THIS IS CRUCIAL. Not sprite. Not sierra mist. Only 7-up.

Garnish with cherries and orange slice (addition of a olive optional).

You read it correctly. No sugar my friends. Trust me on this.

Actually, I was amazed at how the olive balanced the cocktail’s sweetness. I love the addition and now find it necessary.

CC Old Fashioned

(Photo borrowed from: