Summer wines from Donnafugata / Sicilia DOC

2015 is the first U.S. release of Donnafugata Sherazade
2015 is the first U.S. release of Donnafugata Sherazade

In our dreams, it’s always summer in Sicily. The vineyards and the olive groves are bursting with goodness, and the winemakers are all handsome, good-natured and very busy.

We interviewed Antonio Rallo last winter when he came to Chicago as the new president of Sicilia DOC. And recently we had an opportunity to taste a couple of summer wines from his Donnafugata vineyards. From their “fresh and fruity” collection comes the very first US release of Sherazade Nero d’Avola 2015, made from Sicily’s best known indigenous red grape. Light, pleasant and enchanting, with brilliant ruby and purple hues and aromas of strawberries and raspberries with hints of mild pepper. In other words: the red you don’t expect, ideal for the aperitif.

Taste the spring in Donnafugata's SurSur Grillo 2015
Taste the spring in Donnafugata’s SurSur Grillo 2015

2015 Donnafugata SurSur Grillo Sicilia DOC (SRP $23) is a young, fresh and fruity Grillo that pairs beautifully with food and stands happily on its own. The name Sur Sur means cricket in Arabic (a language once also spoken in Sicily) and the label shows the scents and colors of spring. This single-variety wine is crisp and bright with notes of white peaches and grapefruits combined with hints of aromatic herbs.

These are modern wines made from native grapes, examples of authentic Sicilian flavors, ideal for the summer and perfect to share with friends in a relaxing moment of leisure.


Shaw’s Oyster Fest 2016 offers VIP access!

Get some at Shaw's Oyster Fest 2016
Get some at Shaw’s Oyster Fest 2016

Oyster Fest Presented by Shaw’s Crab House returns to Chicago on Friday, September 30, 2016 from 3:00 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. at the corner of Hubbard St. and Rush St. in River North. More than 3,000 guests – got that? – are expected at this year’s Festival. Underline that number: 3000. This is your clue to think about going for the new VIP ticket (see below) so you can rise above the madding crowd.

The Food and Drinks                                                       
Besides the music, four local blues bands including headliner, Bumpus, you’ll get to pick your favorite fresh seafood from Shaw’s Crab House. Look for six varieties of  premium-quality oysters, both East Coast and West Coast, on the half shell as well as other Festival favorites like King Crab Bites, Lobster Rolls, Clam Chowder, Fish Tacos, and more.
Wash ’em all down with your favorite cocktails, wine and/or beer, including this year’s hugely aromatic selections like All Day IPA and KBS (Kentucky Breakfast Stout) from Founder’s Brewing Co.,  based in Grand Rapids, MI.

Tickets go on-sale today at and will be sold in the following two tiers:
  1. General admission ($20)- festival admission
  2. VIP admission ($50)- festival admission, table & waiter service, access to full liquor cash bar, clear sightline/up close to the stage, and access to “luxury” running water trailer bathrooms – as opposed to port-a-potty units.
The Music
Steeped in Chicago blues tradition, Shaw’s Crab House has invited an exciting lineup of blues bands– regulars at The House of Blues, Kingston Mines, Buddy Guy’s and Shaw’s Oyster Bar– to provide continuous music throughout the evening. Emceed by 93XRT’s Lin Brehmer, the day’s bands include:
  • The Friends Band, the friendliest band in town with a fun dance style- 3 to 4 p.m.
  • Big Dog Mercer, the owner of one soulful voice and winner of the 2015 Kankakee Valley Music Awards Best Blues Band- 4:30 to 5:30 p.m.
  • Breezy Rodio, an up-and-coming bluesman with impressive guitar skills and disciple of the famed Linsey Alexander –6:00 to 7:00 p.m.
  • And headliner, Bumpus, a nine-piece funk band that’s gotten great reviews from the Chicago Reader, Tribune, and Sun-Times and has opened for bands like The Roots and The Wailers- 8:15 to 9:30 p.m.
  • And don’t forget the night’s Oyster Slurp-Off Grand Finale where one competitor walks away the 2016 champ and the Oyster Hall of Fame Inductee celebration from 7:15 to 7:45 p.m.
Kids 12 and under are free and, as always, all food and beverage are additional and can be purchased by buying Oyster Bucks at the festival. Following the fest, Shaw’s Chicago will host an Oyster Fest after party with live music until 1 a.m.
For more information, or to purchase tickets, please visit and be sure to follow all the action with #OysterFestChi.

Japanese shochu meets dinner at Izakaya Mita Aug. 22

Try out a new Japanese liquor, shochu
Try out a new Japanese liquor, shochu

Chicago has been welcoming a new phenomenon in drinking lately: the Japanese izakaya. A prime example is Izakaya Mita, a cool little spot at 1960 N. Damen at the corner of Armitage. They are proud of educating Chicagoans about Japanese cuisine and, particularly, about Japanese intoxicating beverages. Their latest offering, called SHOCHU 101 and taking place Monday, August 22, is a special izakaya-style dinner designed to introduce us to Japan’s distilled spirit, shochu.

Guests can choose from two different shochu flights, Fundamentals of Flavor and Expressions of Technique, to enjoy with Chef Toshi Motegi’s unique dinner set prepared to compliment your explorations o fthis native distilled beverage. While you’re imbibing and eating, Tona Palomino of Tenzing Wine and Spirits will guide you on your journey through one of Japan’s most interesting beverages. Reservations required. Call 773.799.8677 or online at

The menu for the evening, which is available all night, includes the following dinner set with either or both shochu flights, as well as a complimentary welcome shochu-based cocktail called a chuhai.

Izakaya-Style Dinner Set – $16
Sake Nanbanzuke – salmon served nanbanzuke style; deep-fried and pickled with onions and a sweet soy vinaigrette, served chilled.
Nasu Dengaku – seared eggplant with white and black miso glaze.
Menchi Katsu – panko-breaded and deep-fried ground beef croquette, served with tonkatsu and ketchup.
Shochu Flight 1 : Fundamentals of Flavor  $13
This shochu flight is designed for guests to sample the differing flavors of four of the most popular styles of shochu: sweet potato (satsuma), rice (kuma), barley (iki), and brown sugar (kokuto).

Isanishiki – Hakutake Shiro – Nadeshiko – Jougo

Shochu Flight 2 : Expressions of Technique  $18
This shochu flight is designed for guests to sample some of the unique techniques that are used in shochu production: Aging, Cask-Strength, Awamori, and Unfiltered.
Kakushigura – Kuradashi – Shimauta – Jakunbaku

New brand for National Lemonade Day August 20

This image shows a whole and a cut lemon.
Real lemons. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Wouldn’t it be fun to drink real lemonade – just juice from real lemons, sugar and water – without going to all the trouble of cutting, squeezing, measuring and stirring to make it? And then standing out in the hot sun waiting for some poor motorist to take pity on you and buy a glass? Oh, wait, that was when we were 5…

Natalie's Natural Lemonade for #NationalLemonadeDay
Natalie’s Natural Lemonade for #NationalLemonadeDay

A lot of packaged/bottled lemonades on the market today have preservatives, additives, fake sweeteners, HFCS or GMO ingredients.  Now – though not exactly low-sugar (27 grams) or low-carb (29 grams) – there is a brand that comes in a bottle with only those 3 natural ingredients – and includes 20% natural lemon juice (as opposed to a typical 2-4%). It’s from Natalie’s Orchid Island Juices (see below for where to get them in this area), and here are two fruity – one lightly spirited and one non-alchoholic – recipes you can make with the lemonade. Get thee hence and sip on #NationalLemonadeDay.

Lemonade Sparkler Recipe by Cafe Johnsonia

Blackberry (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

32 oz Natalie’s Natural Lemonade
8 oz St. Germaine (elderflower liqueur)
1 qt sparkling water or club soda
1 1/2 cup fresh blackberries
2 large lemons, thinly sliced
Crushed ice
In a large pitcher, stir together the Natural Lemonade and St. Germaine. Add 1 cup blackberries, 1 sliced lemon and a few cups of ice. Add enough sparkling water to fill pitcher to the top. Fill glasses or jars with ice, add a few blackberries and lemon slices to each glass. Fill with lemonade, and serve immediately.

Frozen Blackberry Lemonade by Trendy Mom Reviews

8 oz Natalie’s Natural Lemonade
4 oz fresh blackberries
8 oz ice
Pour Natalie’s Natural Lemonade into a blender Add the frozen blackberries. Add ice. Blend at high speed until well blended. Serve promptly.

Where to buy Natalie’s Orchid Island Juices in and around Chicago:

  • Angelo Caputo’s Fresh Markets (Chicago)
  • County Fair (Chicago)
  • Eataly (Chicago)
  • Fresh Thyme (Joliet, Fairview Heights, Crystal Lake, Deerfield, Mt. Prospect, Naperville, Downers Grove, Chicago)
  • Peapod (Online) (Chicago)
  • Restaurant Depot (Chicago)

P.S. This is a woman-owned company, and they make a bunch of interesting juices like beet-orange, grapefruit, honey tangerine, tomato and more. Check ’em out.


Never too late to celebrate National Prosecco Day

Riondo names National Prosecco Day
Riondo names National Prosecco Day

Wouldn’t you know we found out just a little late that this year Riondo Prosecco designated August 13 National Prosecco Day to celebrate the sparkle of summer. This sparkling wine from Italy recently surpassed the 4-million case mark in sales (according to Impact Databank). So it makes sense that this charming wine should get its own national day of recognition. Some say no other beverage defines the Italian philosophy of la dolce vita – the good life – quite like the young and fresh sparkler called Prosecco

It’s got an elegant mousse (bubbles) and a touch of sweetness, delighting with light-bodied, refreshing aromas and flavors of white spring flowers, citrus fruits and green apples. Pair that with a wallet-friendly price tag and you’ve got a fun drink for everyday, party or not.
About Prosecco:
  • It can only be produced in the Veneto and Friuli Venezia Giulia regions of Italy
  • Prosecco is no longer the name of the grape; it’s the regional designation, protected since 2009 by regulation. The name of the grape was changed t
    o Glera, and

     that grape must account for at least 85% of all Proseccos which might also include any of these native varieties: Verdiso, Bianchetta Trevigiana, Perera, Glera Lunga and international grapes Chardonnay, Pinot Bianco and Pinot Grigio

  • Prosecco’s effervescence comes in several levels. While iconic Proseccos are sparkling, versions can be made in sparkling (Spumante) or semi-sparkling (Frizzante) and even as still (Tranquillo) wines
  • It comes in 3 levels of sweetness — Brut (driest), Extra Dry, Dry or Demi-Sec (sweetest).
  • Even though Prosecco makes a quintessential before-dinner drink, you can pair one of its varieties with almost any menu and/or use it in an array of cocktail recipes.
English: Cans of prosecco.
English: Cans of prosecco. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

#NationalProseccoDay is the hashtag if you share on social media.  And while you’re tweeting, sip a glass of Riondo Prosecco Spago Nero. Based on a review sample we tried, Riondo’s premium version can make you feel like it’s a special day any day. This super premium sparkling wine features Riondo’s signature string closure. Grapes: 100% Glera. Alc 10.5%. SRP ~$14.00