Tag Archives: sangria

How to Make a Bad Wine Good {Or a Great Wine Bad}

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Back when I was conducting in-home wine tastings, one of my hosts said that she tended to only drink red wine. When she would drink white wine in the summer, she and her neighbor friends would put fruit in it to make it more palatable.

I found this interesting because it was usually the white wine drinkers who were trying to learn how to enjoy red wine, not red wine drinkers looking to make white wine more tasty.

On a hot summer day last year, I remembered this trick and talked Rob into giving it a try. I mean, we use fruit to make sangria, right?

So we took a mixture of fruit that we had on hand and put it in the bottom of two stemless wine glasses.

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Then we added a chilled dry white wine.

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We finished with a little citrus, too.

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The result? Something soooo tart and sour. I was kind of kicking myself because I know that fruit and wine do not go together. What was I thinking?

I know what it was… I thought about the fruit one puts in sangria, which made me believe this would taste great, too! Besides, it was recommended by a respected red wine drinker. But I didn’t stop to ask her what kind of white wine to which they added fruit. Maybe it was something sweet?

Because that’s why sangria works. You add some sugar (or other sweetener) and a sweet liquor of some sort. I have a slew of sangria recipes here. They never fail.

I recently found this beautiful Rainbow Sangria, too, that I’d love to try. I was looking for a white one to add to my arsenal anyway.

So what does this have to do with making a bad wine good?

It’s not that white wine is bad. Not at all! But if you have a cheap wine, one which you can’t seem to palate as your first (or second) bottle, make sangria with it! My husband used to stock up on wine at the huge liquor store wine sales. I would shake my head when he bought a case of “chianti” because it was a good deal.

“But you haven’t tried it before!” I’d argue. This was a big deal to me since I was marketing wines in a try-before-you-buy fashion.

He quickly learned that a “good deal” isn’t really one if it isn’t a wine you like, nor are likely to drink.

We learned to use these wines to make sangria. With added sugar, liquor and fruit, you can make practically any wine (that hasn’t turned) better.

Don’t think you have the time or ingredients to make sangria? It really isn’t that difficult. But if you want something else ultra quick, pick up a 2-liter of 7-up or Sprite and make this spritzer to bring your bad bottle of wine to life. You can even make it a glass at a time.

Would you want to do this with your favorite bottle? Absolutely not. That would be blasphemous.

How do you use a not-so-tasty bottle of wine?

Cheers~
Carrie

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Solera – Minneapolis {Closed}

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Sometimes, the only way to get my husband to try a restaurant is to buy a Groupon. We have to use it, right? There truly is Power in the Groupon!

Solera is a Spanish tapas bar in the Theater District of Minneapolis. I’d been there a few times with girlfriends. I love the concept of small plates and getting to try a bunch of different flavors. It was something my friend Jen and I loved when we were in Barcelona back in 2000.

I just feared that Rob would hate it. I feared that there would be little for him to eat {a lot of seafood on the menu} and that the plates would be too small. I feared he would go away hungry. I had even considered using the Groupon with a friend instead of Rob.

Then I thought, “No! I want him to try it!” And I knew that having the Groupon was the only way to get him there.

As a backup plan to quell both of our fears, I told him that if he was still hungry, we’d stop at the Scottish Pub next door afterward.

I’m so glad we went.

Because he loved it!

Rob hates downtown Minneapolis. I can’t stress this enough. While he loves dining there and going to concerts and sporting events, he detests navigating the city. He hates parking, construction, traffic and when there are so many people that you just can’t get a seat where you want to or arrive on time if reservations are made.

So I made sure to go at an off-time – on a Sunday afternoon, right when Solera opened. It was a beautiful day and we sat at the bar.

We started off by ordering a Spanish specialty and one that you know I like:

Sangria Menu!

Our choice:

Sidra
St.Germaine, sugar • 7

I’d never had a sangria made with hard cider before! It was actually made with Crispin, which is probably the only good thing that particular cider is good for. I just may be actioning my own Cider Sangria next summer!

Pre-meal crusty bread with oil for dunking

When you order tapas, the plates come out as they are ready. You are not served in courses or all at once. I like this concept because whatever you get will be hot and freshly prepared. In addition, if you are still hungry, you can order more. The bartender recommended 3 to 5 tapas for two people, because the size of them really depends on each dish.

First to come out:

Patatas Bravas
spicy harissa, aioli • 8

These potatoes were more than delightful. The spice of the harissa gave them a nice kick. Talk about flavor! As you will come to see, this is certainly not a place where we will be screaming Season It Already!

And why was I worried about these plates being too “small” for dear hubby? With the four plates of tapas we ordered, we couldn’t even finish these, despite how good they were!

You may not know this yet from my blog, but I have a not-so-secret love affair with scallops. I was introduced to them later in life {read: after college} and I almost always order them anytime they are offered {read: when not served with bacon}.

Despite the fact that tapas are plates meant to share, Rob knew that I would need to order the scallops. {He approves of the love affair.} But he also knew we’d be ordering other meat items for his culinary pleasure.

The Scallops

These scallops are different from those on the current menu. I imagine that the flavors change with the season. And while the flavors of these scallops are indescribable {the bartender and server went into intricate detail on how they were prepared!}, let’s just say that I was fully satisfied and smiling ear-to-ear. My plate was cleaned.

Next up:

Bistec al Guacho
seared sirloin, smoked paprika, chimichurri • 9

While Rob said that the meat was just a bit chewy, it didn’t stop him from eating it! And flavor? How could there not be with a fresh chimichurri sauce covering it?

And finally:

Pork Ribs
brandy glaze, pimenton rub • 14

For being an American girl constantly in search of flavor, you may be surprised to learn that I don’t particularly like ribs nor barbecue sauces. {Gasp!} There is something about the smoky and sweet flavors that everyone loves that I’m just not into so much. That being said, I gave these pork ribs a try and was pleasantly surprised. Rob licked his fingers clean.

And you can’t stop in Spain without having a little Sherry, right?

Solera Sherry Menu

Being the girl that cannot make a decision, knows nothing about sherry, and is still in search of her inner Frasier Crane, I finally just had the bartender choose one for us:

Our after-dinner sherry

The perfect end to a meal! I sometimes taste Bit-O-Honey when I drink Sherry or other sweet Spanish wines. Is this just  me?

What are your favorite small plates to eat, make or order?

Cheers~

Carrie

Burger Jones – Burnsville

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Burger Jones belongs to the Parasole group of Twin Cities restaurants. While there generally aren’t multiple locations of each of the Parasole restaurants, there is a Burger Jones in Burnsville as well as the Uptown area of Minneapolis.

At the Burnsville location {I can’t vouch for the Uptown one}, the moment you walk through the door, you see huge pictures of cows on the walls of the entryway. Okay, so we’re at a burger joint. We know we are eating beef. I get it. But I can’t imagine if we were at a Greek restaurant ordering gyros that we’d see sheep plastered all over the walls.

Am I the only one that finds this a little odd?

In addition, the walls of the bar area are covered with professionally taken photos of people. Not ones of customers or anything, but an entire string of blown up photos of people stuffing burgers into their faces or licking their lips.

Also weird. 

And not very appetizing.

Despite these oddities, we keep going back. Why?

When I sit down and look at the line of taps to choose from, all is right with the world:

Burger Jones has an lengthy list of cocktails and beers.

There’s another line of taps on the other side of the bar. And while it’s not the biggest tap selection I’ve seen, it’s one of the best “South of the River”. {South of the River = the Minneapolis-St. Paul suburbs south of the Minnesota River}.

It’s also only one of two restaurants “South of the River” that I know of that serves Strongbow Cider {in the can}. Still, I can honestly say that I’d save the Strongbow for the other establishment. There are just so many tap beer options here, that you wouldn’t find there. And there seems to be a newer one added each time we return. One of my favorites is:

Summit Oatmeal Stout

Again, it’s the only place “South of the River” that I know of that has this beer on tap. In fact, it’s tough to find Summit Oatmeal Stout on tap anywhere. That saddena me since it’s one of Summit’s best-brewed and most flavorful beers, in my opinion. {I’m sorry, even as an IPA lover, the the new Sága just doesn’t cut it for me!}

There are some fun cocktails on the menu, too:

Lake Street Lemonade

Sucker Punch

But my favorite of all is the St. Germain Sangria! It was taken off the menu for the winter last year. Then, this summer they added a peach sangria instead. I still haven’t tried that one because I continue to ask them to make me the St. Germain Sangria! Seriously, just ask for it and they’ll make it. If they don’t, they might be a newbie. But in my opinion, it’s the best Sangria ever.

Sangria made with St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur

Of course, with a name like Burger Jones, you just gotta order a burger. Choose one on the menu already concocted or build your own:

There is also a new Burger of the Month every month. However, we often forget about it. For some reason, when we eat at the bar, we are rarely informed of the BOTM. We usually think of it after we’ve already ordered or eaten. But there was one occasion when we remembered to ask and Rob ended up ordering it:

Philly Cheese Burger with cheese sauce, onions, and peppers

Rob said it was just okay. To be honest, the burgers here are good, but not really great. You have the choice of ordering your burger pink or no pink. Pretty straight-forward. Though, I’ve found that there is never enough cheese, at least not enough so you can taste it. Why pay more for the ever-flavorful Gruyere or Fini Aged Cheddar if you can’t taste them?

I’ve even stepped outside the box and built my own burger:

My BYO: Junior Jones on a Homemade English Muffin with Gruyere, Tomato, and Avocodo Mayo

I have no idea why I’ve ordered this avocado mayo so many times. I always think that I’ll like it because I love avocado and I loved flavored mayos. But each time, I find out that it has no flavor! I need to stop ordering it until they SEASON IT ALREADY!

And homemade English muffin? Not a chance. It tasted like the regular old packaged English muffins I get at the grocery store. It was barely even toasted. I’ve tried a homemade English muffin at another Parasole restaurant and it was fluffly, toasted and heavenly. There is no reason why they can’t do that here.

But Rob finally found his favorite Burger Jones burger:

El Cubano

El Cubano is topped with ham, slow roasted pork, Swiss, pickles and mustard.

The French Fries {the regular ones} are probably one of our favorite items on the menu at Burger Jones. You order them as a side item. Rob and I split one order between the two of us and as much as we love them, we’ve still never finished them!

French Fries with Chipotle Aioli

These fries are nearly perfectWe like to couple them with the Chipotle Aioli as our dipping sauce.

Another surprisingly yummy part of the Burger Jones menu is The Dog Park. Yes, that means hotdogs. They use Nathan’s famous all-beef hotdogs and can be ordered plain or with your traditional toppings. But I can get that at a ballpark. So let’s spice it up a bit!

Rob’s favorite:

The Pitbull – bbq pulled pork, fried pickles, slaw

My favorite:

The Chihuahua split, filled with cheddar and salsa verde, topped with a fried egg.

Other food:

  • Rob loves the Cheese Curds.
  • The Sliders aren’t very exciting.
  • Southwest Salsa Veggie Burger – just a frozen Garden Burger. Pretty dull and boring. It didn’t stand a chance against my favorite Morningstar Chipotle Black Bean Burgers I get at Costco!
  • Burger Jones Chili  – runny and greasy

It’s so hard to be healthy when eating out at a joint like this! Sure, there are some salads on the menu. Okay, okay. I’ll order one next time and report back. But then I’ll have to call it Salad Jones.

The last thing we love about this place is that it is dog-friendly. There is an outdoor patio that allows dogs. Before the patio closes for the season, I’d love to get Sophie Jean out there!

What kind of burger is your favorite?

Cheers~
Carrie

Minnesota Wineries

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Did you know that there is a vineyard in every state in the Unites States?

Yes, it’s true. And if you don’t believe me, just check out this winery locator.

That doesn’t mean that all of these wineries and vineyards produce fine wines. But, really, what is the definition of a fine wine anyway? I thought that I once read that fine wines were made from vitis vinifera grapes. However, in doing a little extra research for this post, I couldn’t find that anywhere. In fact, it seems that there is no real definition for a fine wine.

I guess for me, then, it’s a wine from an established wine-making region. A region where winemakers have mastered the wine-making process based on the terroir of that region.

So what are the established wine-making regions in the U.S.? Well, just like the French have the DOC and the Italians the DOCG, the U.S. has federally recognized growing regions called AVAs (American Viticultural Areas). While I fully expected to find a listing of AVAs in California (i.e. Napa, Sonoma, Santa Barbara, etc.), Washington (Columbia Valley), Oregon (Willamette Valley), New York (Finger Lakes) and maybe even the up-and-coming state of Virginia; I was surprised to learn that AVAs have been established in 30 states. I guess I can’t definite fine wineas coming from an AVA either. Have I become a snob?

Either that, or I’m missing out and I better get drinkin’.

In any case, I haven’t really been a fan of many Minnesota wines. Maybe I’m more snobbish than I think. {I consider myself more of a beer snob than a wine snob.} I’ve actually been more keen on Wisconsin wines, to tell you the truth. The best Minnesota wines I’ve had have been those made with imported California grapes, not with grapes grown in Minnesota.

That being said, I won’t give up trying local wines and supporting the local community!

Luckily we had a chance to do a tasting at Woodland Hill Winery this June thanks to a gift certificate from our friends Terri and Steve! The gift certificate included a tasting flight of wines, a full glass of wine of our choice, a bottle of wine to take home, two Woodland Hill Winery glasses and a discount on additional purchases.

I liked these tasting note boards, where we could use a dry erase marker to take notes and the tasting room could re-use for the next guests:

Tasting Notes

While we tend to be red wine drinkers, our favorite was a white: La Crescent. As I understand it, the La Crescent grape was developed by the University of Minnesota to grow well in the climate here.

But our true favorite was the Vinny’s Red, made from Marquette grapes. I was pleasantly surprised! However, this was not an option for our complimentary glass nor the complimentary bottle. 😦 At least we got to try it. And of course they would name their best wine after the resident squirrel chaser:

Vinny relaxing in the tasting room…

As expected, most of the wines didn’t impress us much, though the Vinny’s Red Marquette does stand out. And the wines seemed a bit overpriced for the quality. However, it does take quite a bit to get a winery going, so what do I really know about pricing these things?

That reminds me, our bottle of La Crescent is chilling in the fridge as I type…

We were about to order the La Crescent as our glass of wine of choice while we perused the shop of wine gifts. However, Rob overheard someone talking about Sangria… and then he spotted it:

Spotted! A vat of Sangria behind the tasting bar!

It was a hot, hot day… and how can one go wrong with Sangria? And so we chose it. It hit the spot. Ahhh…

What are your favorite local wineries? Any you’d recommend?

Cheers~
Carrie

El Meson – Minneapolis {Closed}

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I had been here once before years back with my friends Jen and Kari. I think it was before Kari’s kids were even born yet. {Let’s just say that they aren’t toddlers anymore.} I remember loving the ambiance, the booths that felt like private cubby holes and the Spanish-style décor.

I also remember loving the sangria.

Sometimes I find that the reason we dine somewhere that isn’t in a 5-mile radius from our house is that we have a Groupon. And it is for that reason that I was able to get Rob to dine here on beautiful afternoon in May. 😉

We went early. The Groupon required a reservation and since we had planned to be in the area for something else, I made it really early – 4pm. We often eat early, but not this early!  Of course, without anyone else there at 4pm, the restaurant didn’t have quite the same liveliness as I had first experienced.

Our Groupon included two glasses of wine or beer and two entrees.

However, we decided to start with an app from their tapas menu:

Cantapalitos
Grilled mini Chorizo sausages served with sautéed artichoke hearts & sweet onions in a warm vinaigrette. 7.95

With it, they served some bread:

buttered bread

This pre-buttered bread was way too easy to eat. I try to limit myself to one piece if I do eat any bread while out, but I did have at least one more. I think this bread basket went away from our table empty. Whoops.

But I did think that ordering a lower calorie dish like scallops could make up for it:

Conchas – Pan Seared Curry Dusted Sea Scallops served with coconut, mango, spinach risotto, in a lemon butter sauce, topped with a pineapple salsa. 19.95

This was a great dish and I loved the risotto. I’m sure the sauces made up for the low-calorie scallops, though. Would I get it again? It wasn’t one of those scallop dishes I have to have again. There are just too many other things on the menu that I’d like to try!

Rob ordered:

Carne a la Brava – Piementon crusted beef medallions served with a Valencia saffron rice, braised fingerling potatoes, sauteed artichokes hearts and chorizo, in a tempranillo demi glaze, topped with a Serrano crisp. 18.95

The server did not ask how he’d like it done. And in a place like this, I just assume that means they only serve it one way because that is the way it was supposed  to be cooked. And it was cooked to perfection – medium rare. The only thing was that it needed more seasoning. Season it already!  Still, I was curious about the Serrano crisp sticking out of the saffron rice. So I snapped off a piece before Rob could slap my hand away. It tasted like really crunchy bacon. It was very cool-looking garnish – like a whale tail was sticking out the rice.

And the Sangria?

El Meson Sangria

Delicious! While the Sangria at Burger Jones still tops my list, this one is still lovely. I can’t say that I’ve ever had bad Sangria though…

Overall, El Meson is a great little neighborhood restaurant that we’d probably frequent if we lived in the area to check out more of their menu. Oh, and they call themselves a Spanish-Caribbean Bistro. Have you been to one of those lately?

What’s the most interesting garnish you’ve had served on a plate or in a cocktail?

Cheers~
Carrie

Suddenly Sangria…

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Sangria anyone?!

I absolutely love Sangria in the summer months. Don’t you?

I had a different post in mind for this Wine Wednesday; but when Kat posted on Cocktail Week, asking readers about their favorite cocktail, I professed my undying love to St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur.

St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur

“What does that have to do with Sangria?” you ask? Well…

You see, there are recipes on how to make traditional sangria with red wine, fruit, juice and brandy. However, I’ve collected a few interesting variations along the way. I apologize in advance because I’m not quite sure who to give credit to on all of them. Wineaux friends, if you happen upon this blog and find a sangria recipe that you just know you gave me, please give yourself a shout out!

One recipe that’s particularly raved about by my Wine Tasting hosts came from my friend, Deb:

Sangria with Grand Marnier

In a pitcher, combine the following:

  • 1 Orange, sliced thinly into half moons (with skin on)
  • 1 Lemon, sliced thinly into half moons (with skin on)
  • 1 Lime, sliced thinly into half moons (with skin on)
  • 1 Jar Maraschino Cherries
  • 1 cup sliced fresh strawberries
  • 4 tablespoons sugar
  • 1/2 cup Grand Marnier
  • 1/4 cup Brandy
  • 1 bottle dry red wine

Soak the above in refrigerator overnight. Top off each person’s glass with a splash of Sprite, 7UP or Ginger Ale. (Or add it to the pitcher just before serving.)

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Here’s another fun variation with different fruits and liquor. Who needs green beer on St. Patrick’s Day?

Irish Sangria

In a pitcher, combine the following:

  • 1 lemon, cut into wedges
  • 2 oranges, cut into wedges
  • 1 small bag of frozen apricots, peaches or raspberries
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 2-3 shots of whiskey

Preparation:
Squeeze the juice from the lemon and orange wedges into a pitcher. Toss in the wedges (leaving out seeds if possible), along with the frozen fruit, sugar and whiskey. Mix and chill overnight. Top off each person’s glass with a splash of Sprite, 7UP or Ginger Ale. (Or add it to the pitcher just before serving.)

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And then there are the easier, very forgiving versions, that’ll encourage you to just throw in whatever you have on hand.

Easy Sangria

Basic Recipe:

  • 1/2 cup rum or brandy
  • 2 Tbsp sugar
  • 1 sliced lemon
  • 1 sliced orange
  • 1 sliced lime
  • 1 cored and sliced apple

Squeeze the juice from the wedges of the lemon, lime and orange into a pitcher. Toss in the wedges (leaving out seeds if possible), along with the apple slices, sugar and alcohol. Mix and chill overnight. Top off each person’s glass with a splash of Sprite, 7UP or Ginger Ale. (Or add it to the pitcher just before serving.)

The Variations:

Get creative! Use whatever you have on hand.

  • Liquor – You can use any liqueur you’ve got to give it that kick – rum, vodka, gin, brandy, you name it. Flavored ones are more interesting, of course. Whatever you have is fine. {Read: St. Germain!}
  • Fruit – Any fruit on hand will do. Did you forget about that can of pineapple in the pantry? Drain out the syrup before adding them. Do you have a bag of frozen raspberries or peaches in your freezer? Give those a try. Save a few pieces of frozen fruit to add to your guests’ glasses just before serving. They serve as flavored ice cubes that won’t water down the sangria!
  • Citrus Concentrates – Adding frozen citrus concentrates like orange, lemon or limeade add even more intensity to the flavor.

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And while all of the above are fantastic {it’s pretty tough to screw up sangria}, my all-time favorite version of Sangria can be had at Burger Jones. I will go on record stating that it’s The Best Sangria in the Twin Cities.

St. Germain Sangria $9
St. Germain liquor, fresh citrus and
cabernet sauvignon

I have not yet done a Restaurant Impression on Burger Jones; however, expect one in the near future with a second picture of this magnificent Mason jar of Sangria:

St. Germain Sangria

Unfortunately, the drink was removed from their menu this winter and surprisingly never made it back for the spring. I’m not sure why, because it’s pure heaven in a glass jar. However, if you tell them you’d like the St. Germain Sangria, they can still make it for you!

If you’d like to try a white wine sangria recipe with it, try the one on this blog and read more about what St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur is. I’ve had it in a number of martinis and cocktails and have learned that I can’t go wrong. If it’s on the menu and I’m cocktailin’ it, I’m orderin’ it.

I love refreshing Sangria on hot days. Consider stirring up a batch for your 4th of July party.

Where’s your favorite place to enjoy Sangria?

Have you tried Elderflower Liqueur? If so, describe your cocktail!