Lala’s, Rioja, and Inspiration in my kitchen

Last week I met mon petit ami Jerome for a glass of wine and some tidbits after a long day.  We’d never been to Lala’s before, so we decided to check it out. It is a cool little wine bar and pizzeria across from Governor’s Park on the south side of Capitol Hill.  We love our stolen moments over a few exquisite glasses of wine accompanied by a selection of small plates or tapas.

We both tried a Rioja but different vintages, I had La Vendimia, Jerome sipped on Viña Zaco.  We shared a variety of delicious, smoky, olives with Polpette (Italian meat balls).  The atmosphere, wine, and food was sensational…we liked my wine a bit more…it tasted so much better in the kisses.

These recipies are inspired by those few stolen moments, followed by a solo viewing of “Big Night” with Stanley Tucci, Tony Shalhoub, Issabella Rossellini, and Ian Holm.  The film details two brothers from Abruzzo, immigrated to New Jersey in the 1950’s with the dreams of opening a traditional Italian restaurant featuring exceptional cuisine in the face of dismally bland, faux Italian, Americanized food.  In the movie the opposition was brutal but the triumphant feast on the last Big Night looked sensational.

Great restaurant, great film (especially for foodies and wine lovers) and as usual, blissfully wonderful company and delicious wine and food.

Italian Meat Balls and Home Made Cream of Mushroom Soup

November 15,  2012

Simone FM Spinner

Italian Meat Balls

7 cloves of garlic

1 yellow onion

1/4 c Italian parsley

1/4 c fresh oregano

1 t white pepper

1 t sea salt

1 t nutmeg

2 fresh eggs

A drizzle of extra virgin olive oil

1/2 c gluten free panko bread crumbs

1/3 c freshly grated Parmesan cheese

20 ounces ground turkey

16 ounces very lean ground pork

Mince garlic and onion, in a food processor or blender. Add the parsley, oregano, pepper, salt, and nutmeg and blend briefly.  Add to a large mixing bowl. Whisk in olive oil and eggs. Add meat, cheese,  and bread. Crumbs. Blend very well mixing until the mixture is smooth.

Form into 24 large, 2 inch balls. Bake in a foil lined, lasagne pan for 30 minutes at 350′ F.

Form into smaller balls, either 36 or 48 and bake for around 20 minutes at 350′ F….monitor closely so they don’t overcook.

Oh so good!

Best Ever Cream of Mushroom Soup

12 large Crimini mushrooms

2  medium Portabella mushrooms

2 shallots

3 green onions

3 slices prosciutto

2 cloves garlic


Pinch white pepper

Pinch sea salt

3 bay leaves

1/2 t crushed, dried sage

1 t arrowroot

1/2 box low salt chicken broth

1 box low salt beef broth

1 c half and half

Mince shallots and green onion and sauté in a few tablespoons of butter until translucent. Add chopped prosciutto and brown. Blend in salt, pepper, sage and garlic and cook for a few minutes. Add chopped mushrooms and sweat on medium low until the mushrooms become soft.

Add broth and simmer for one hour. Remove a 1/2 cup of broth and whisk in arrowroot, blend into soup.

Drizzle half and half into soup, gently whisking.

Serve immediately.

Yum yum!

303 magazine: Chasing Grapes : Sultry Reds to Warm Up Your Cool Nights


Falling in love and indulging in truly sensual experiences are the last bastions of an innocent, childlike wonderment that an adult can experience.  The world may lose its luster but it doesn’t have to lose its joy. Sensuality brings us pleasure by engaging our tactile, visual, audio, gustatory, and olfactory perceptions of the world around us. There is nothing in the world better than being in the embrace of the one you love, feeling the warmth of their skin and their breath as their lips brush against yours.  Some people are thrilled by the sensation of silk against their skin or the feeling of fresh, cool soil in the garden in the spring.  Others are turned on by the sounds of a heartfelt, raging guitar solo or the coo of a sleeping infant.  Rich golden, orange and red leaves hanging on autumn trees against amber and pink skies at twilight bring happiness to the people who happen to notice.  But for some, the truest expression of sensuality is found in the aromas and tastes of an amazing bottle of wine paired with a fantastic meal.

Something about autumn stirs my own cravings for more sensual wines with layers of complexity only found in the sultry red wines from the northern shores of the Mediterranean and Ligurian Seas.  These wines awaken my appetite for more luxurious cuisine and a more serious dining experience.  Gone are the casual, steamy, dog days of summer with its crunchy salads, cool soups and icy cold white or rosé wines. In Denver, days may still be warm but evenings are a bit chilly. It’s the perfect time for cuddling in front of a roaring fire with mon petit ami Jerome, and indulging our senses. Wonderful, rustic pasta dishes and smoky grilled fare complemented with the wines of Piedmont or the Rhone Valley bring a sensuality that has been missing all summer back into my kitchen and into my life.

Ready for Harvest in the Rhône Valley

The following wines illustrate my quest for this sensuality to warm these shorter days, cooler evenings, and fulfill my desire for a sultry, aromatic, and flavorful wine to pair with a more substantial meal at the end of my day.  These are wines I have selected to honor the passions of mon petit ami Jerome; his favorite regions and wines that I know he will fall in love with.

I was recently introduced to Proprietà Seprino Uvaggio 2006 by my friend Ashley, at Little’s Wine & Spirits.  This gem of a wine is full of surprises. Hailing from the foothills of the Alps in northern Piedmonte, Italy, the wine was created by father and son team, Paolo and Luca de Marchi.  The word uvaggio indicates that it is a field blend of nebbiolo, vespolina and croatina, fermented together and aged in wood for a medium bodied and firm structured wine. (As opposed to the vinaggio which is a blend of finished wines). The wine shows an inky, purplish tone with classic nebbiolo notes of rose petals, cocoa, and tar rounded out with a lovely spicy scent, jasmine blossoms, ripe pomegranate, and a hint of juicy Morello cherry.  Even though it has a rigid tannin structure, there is just enough acidity to keep this well-balanced wine for years to come.

The Rhône Valley in Autumn

We love France, French wines, and the Rhône Valley produces many of our favorite wines. In recent weeks, mon petit ami Jerome acquired two contrasting styles of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, the staunchly traditional Bosquet des Papes  Chante le Merle, 2009, Vieilles Vignes, and the more modern  Le Vieux Donjon, 2008.  Châteauneuf-du-Pape is a fascinating commune of the southern Rhône with a history of unique culture and unique wines to reflect the dramatic history of the area.  In 1308 Pope Clement V relocated the papacy to the city of Avignon. For seventy years, the Avignon Popes did much to advance the wine making of the area.  They encouraged viticultural regions to expand and brought more modern technology to the area. The wines of the region became known as Vins du Papes. Wine of the Popes.  Always rustic and earthy in style, Châteauneuf-du-Pape allows up to 13 different red and white grapes into their blends but relies on four main varietals to signify the unique style. Grenache, Mourvèdre,  Syrah, Cinsault, are the main varietals utilized but Counoise, Muscardin, Terret Noir, and Vaccarèse are allowed along with white grapes including Grenache Blanc, Bourboulenc, Clairette, Picardan, Roussanne, and Picpoul.  Bosquet des Papes  Chante le Merle, 2009, Vieilles Vignes, has been a family owned labor of love since 1860. Chante le Merle is their baby. The bracing and balanced wine is mostly Grenache with a splash of Syrah and Mourvèdre, showing notes of lavender, raspberries, mocha and a spicy, rich finish. Family owned and very small production, Le Vieux Donjon, 2008 is a bit more solid and rustic with assertive perfume and more juicy fruit.  It is broad, plush and solid, with notes of kirsch, juniper, baked spicy apples, and hints of anise seed and cypress.

Ripe syrah grapes bursting with flavor

Côte-Rôtie is the roasted slope of the Rhône Valley known for Syrah often blended with a bit of  Viognier.  This is one of the first and only regions of France to allow, and even encourage the blending of a small amount of white grapes into the red wine to encourage a silky smooth and more floral aroma and mouth feel. The most distinctive characteristic of Côte-Rôtie wine is the beautiful and aromatic aroma. The fragrant notes often include green olives, raspberry, violets, meaty bacon, black pepper, white pepper, blueberry, blackberry, plum, and leather. Most of the vines are very old, with 40 years being an average and some vines being over 100. This produces low wine yields of very flavor-concentrated fruit, leading to lush and flavorful wines.  Domaine Partick Jasmine Côte-Rôtie, 2007 is an elegant and classic representation of Côte-Rôtie. This particular wine boasts juicy cherries, ripe raspberries, tobacco, crushed minerals, violets, and a sprinkling of white pepper.  Jasmine has a lively acidity along with a firm tannin structure and a glorious, smoky finish.

As lovers of most things nebbiolo, it is only natural to find ourselves drawn to the king of Piedmonte: Barolo. Piedmonte is one of the oldest wine regions in the world and yet, it seems always under wraps save for the most adventurous wine lovers. The unique mesoclimate and tortonian soil riddled with limestone marl give way to wines that are heady, aromatic, elegant, and well-balanced with the ability to age for many years. Nebbiolo is a late ripener and was once reserved for sweet wines, but in the mid-19th century an inventive Italian invited a French winemaker into his fold and the pair created the first modern Barolo.  Oddero Barolo is a modern representation of this black-skinned grape known for its tar, rose petals, truffles, licorice and dusty cocoa notes. Friends and I recently shared a bottle of Oddero Barolo 1994 which was just ready to drink.  The most difficult thing about loving Barolo is leaving it alone for years while it matures and becomes the absolute beauty it is destined become.

All of these delectable wines should spend more time in the cellar, but look for them now while they are available.  They are small production, coveted, rare and beautiful gems.  Find them, buy them, lay them down and leave them alone.  In a few years, when they are more accessible, the bliss you experience, much like love, will be well worth the wait.

303 magazine: Chasing Grapes : For the love of Champagne

I find myself engaging in conversation about wine with people every day. In these conversations, I am often asked, “What is your favorite wine?” My answer is always the same…Champagne. Not just any sparkling wine: Champagne.  I have many other loves, but none thrill me like Champagne.  Yes, Barolo and Châteauneuf-du-Pape have tried to tempt me, Rioja and Burgundy seduce me, Priorat, Bordeaux and Brunello di Montalcino have all tried to steal my heart, but I am forever loyal to the one I love the most.  J’adore… je t’aime Champagne….

Since the first creation of Blanquette de Limoux in 1531AD by Benedictine Monks in the Abbey of Saint Hilaire, near Carcassonne, sparkling wine is produced in many places and in many styles. Italy brings us the traditional Franciacorta, tangy, off-dry Prosecco and peaches & cream, fizzy, Moscato d’Asti. Prosecco is excellent for peach bellinis and Moscato is just excellent.  Spain delivers often bone dry, delicious Cava produced using indigenous Spanish grapes macabeu, parellada, xarel·lo, and more recently, pinot noir and chardonnay. Germany has Sekt, Portugal makes Espumante, sparkling wines are made in Hungary, Britain, Australia, and in the United States. I am happy to sip on any of these sparklers.  They are refreshing, light, fun, and they each have a unique style and personality. But, when it comes to pure, unadulterated BLISS, only one wine delivers.  Champagne.

Champagne is a complex wine from a tiny, equally complex region in northern France. The area, known as Champagne, has a sordid, brutal, aristocratic, and serious legacy.  Champagne has been a coveted wine region since 52 BC when Roman legions first cultivated grapes there and quarried the abundant limestone bedrock carving out the miles of crayères (caves) to build temples, buildings and roads.  These caves, discovered many centuries later, became the perfect storage facilities for caring for and aging the delicate wines of Champagne. During World War I & II, the men and women even lived in these caves for protection from the ravages of war. It is said, that there have been more battles on the lands of Champagne than on any other lands in the world.  Some of the grandest scale, deadliest battles have been waged in the vineyards from Attila the Hun, to the Hundred Years’ War, Prussian Wars, and World Wars.  Out of this lengthy history of devastation, comes a lovely, elegant, expression of the vines long devoted to the happiest celebrations of life.  The most important rites of passage like marriage, the births of babies, the coronations of kings and queens, holidays, the maiden voyage of a new yacht, and so many other joyous celebrations.  But, no other celebration calls for Champagne quite like the celebration of love.

Recently, mon petit ami Jerome and I celebrated such effervescent bliss with a bottle of my favorite of all Champagnes.  Perrier Jouët. This special wine is all about love.  The Perrier Jouët Champagne House was founded in 1811 by young newlywed lovers, Nicolas Perrier, the son of winegrower, Adèle Jouët, the daughter of a family of wine merchants. The couple invested in 65 hectares in Epernay and 40 additional hectares in Avize and Cramant, some of the most prestigious, Grand Cru vineyards in the region. (Pictured here) The House of Perrier Jouët still resides on these lands. The legendary love story of Nicolas and Adèle flourished until his death in 1854, at which time their son, Charles, took the helm of the business.  Perrier Jouët, like most Champagnes of the time, was a relatively sweet wine.  Charles created the very first, modern style, dry Champagne, revolutionizing the wine, the region and the industry.  Long associated with royalty and prestige, in 1888, Perrier-Jouët became the most expensive champagne in the world; with Perrier-Jouët 1874 breaking all price records at Christie’s, the world’s leading art auctioneer. The iconic, gorgeous, hand painted Perrier-Jouët bottle was first created by famed Art Deco painter Emile Gallé in 1902. The work of art was one of five prototype bottles misplaced in a crayère until it was mistakenly uncovered in 1964.  The white and green bouquet of anemones has become the symbol of the house, the symbol of excellence and a symbol of effervescent love.

Many a romantic and a poet agree with me and extoll the virtues of Champagne.  Legend has it that Dom Pérignon, a blind monk, upon tasting Champagne for the first time, exclaimed, “Come quickly, I am drinking the stars!”  Coco Chanel said, “I only drink Champagne on two occasions, when I am in love, and when I am not.” Casanova felt Champagne was essential for seduction.  Marilyn Monroe was famous for bathing in Champagne. And, my favorite, Oscar Wilde, infamous for his provocation, “I can resist anything except temptation,” added “Only the truly unimaginative can fail to find a reason for drinking champagne.”

I can always find a reason to drink Perrier Jouët.  The Perrier Jouët Grand Brut, with its ultra-fine mousse, smoky, mineral notes with hints of lemon zest and peaches is thoroughly delightful, but the Cuveé Belle Époque Grand Fleur, the Cuveé Grand Fleur Blason Rosé, and the Cuveé Grand Fleur Blanc de Blanc are absolutely unbelievable. If I could only drink one wine for the rest of my life, it would be Belle Époque.  Belle Époque has a wonderful, feminine, delicate bouquet of ginger, freesia, gardenia, toasted almonds, and creaminess with a luminous mousse that plays on the tongue.  The chiffon pale pink Rosé adds faint strawberries, cinnamon and pink rose petals, while the Blanc de Blancs delivers a slight lime blossom, honeysuckle and lemon curd note to the beautiful, elegant, exquisite blend that is Perrier Jouët.

There is nothing more titillating than spending an afternoon with a perfectly chilled bottle of Belle Époque, a platter of freshly shucked, briny, succulent, oysters and mon petit ami Jerome….Effervescent Bliss!

*Perrier Jouët Grand Brut is affordable and can be found at most regional wine specialty stores.  Perrier Jouët Belle Époque Grand Fleur can be found at Applejack Wine & Spirits, Argonaut Wine & Spirits, Divino, City Wine, and Incredible Wine & Spirits and may be special ordered. Belle Époque Blason Rosé and Blanc de Blancs are trickier to find, but, on occasion, they may be special ordered.

Photos/info: Flickr by Gaetan Lee,

ORIGINAL ARTICLE:303 magazine: August 15, 2012:

Simone FM Spinner, CWS, CWE is a wine educator, sommelier, and passionate wine & food lover.  She is looking forward to Chasing Grapes and sharing her experiences with you-Salut!.