Was this a Chard?

After leaving the bar we all slowly ambled off to the private dining room for the evening. There would be awards to be given for the assorted golf achievements. There would special accolades for the guest speakers and a good time to be enjoyed for all, and a special treat for the spouses that attended as well, and I was part of that esteemed group. Somebody described me as “gregarious” to my Bride and I guess that she had to agree, as she relayed the information to me. I mean what does a Raconteur do at a table, but relate humorous moments to keep people smiling, after all now one is always on business.

As we were walking into the room, I got a bit sidetracked, as is my wont and noticed that they next room over was set up either for a wedding or to display what could be done at the hotel for a wedding. Those days are past for us and our children are all married, so we can just go with the flow. What caught my attention was two tables set up with empty wine bottles with new labels affixed that were labeled 1 Year, 3 Years, 5 Years and 10 Years with a slender pad of writing paper on the tray with the bottles and some pens to write well wishes to the new couple and then the notes are to be placed in the bottle to be read on the corresponding anniversary. I had never seen that before and I thought it was cute and a novel idea.

After I found my Bride and sat down for dinner we were brought out fresh baked rolls, and a special garden salad. The entrée that evening was a plate of salmon and a chicken breast with appropriate sauce, potatoes and a vegetable, followed by a dessert. Just a classic dinner for a large group. There was a large bar area set off on one side of the room with an assortment of fine liquors and liqueurs, an assortment of beers and of course a mix of wines. Of course, I had to brave the wines for that is what I do, but I wish sometimes that the wine selection could be put up a notch or two, at least comparable to the liquors being served. The wines were a mixed offering of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Chardonnay all by La Terre and all were California and non-vintage. I was stumped that I could not even find any information on this wine other than it is very popular for catering and restaurants as a house brand, because it is priced very affordably. It could see where it could be popular, as it was the sweetest Chardonnay that I have ever had and to us it was a bit disconcerting, but since we had enjoyed some wine earlier, we really did not have to indulge, though I did watch as many were getting refills, so maybe it was me and I am trying not to be snarky, I really am.

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Another Great Chardonnay

Here we were in Bay City for a board meeting and after the lunch break, people went on their ways for the afternoon. There was a small golf tournament for the members that is highly popular, but I haven’t golfed since college and that was during the days of Richard M. Nixon. Some of the people went antiquing, my Bride was on her computer and phone catching up on work and I did some writing. Afterwards we went and explored the downtown area and got a good walk in as well. Then my Bride went to get dressed for the dinner and I meandered into the bar.

The bar was just off of the lobby of the hotel and across from their Riverfront Grille. As I walked in to see if there was anyone that I could join for a drink, I spotted our gracious host from the night before having a glass of Kendall-Jackson Vintner’s Reserve 2015, probably the most popular and best-selling Chardonnay in the country for several decades. It was a good choice for a wine that could be bought by the glass. The wine has aged on the lees for seven months in a mix of French and American oak barrels. This particular wine carries a California AVA, because the fruit is harvest from Monterey, Santa Barbara, Mendocino and Sonoma Counties and it has a taste that is very similar year after year, and people appreciate it. Kendall-Jackson is also great at advertising their wines, especially this one.

I bellied up to the bar, and asked for their wine list to see if there was anything that caught my eye, because I wasn’t sure what wines would be served during the dinner later in the evening, so I thought I would make the most of it. There was the perfect Chardonnay to share with my friend, and if my Bride gets down soon enough, she could enjoy some as well. They had Cakebread Cellars Chardonnay 2015 by the bottle, but not by the glass; and what is a mere bottle between friends? Cakebread Cellars has been around since 1973 and they make a wonderful Chardonnay as well as the other wines that they offer. This wine is all Napa fruit, with ninety percent from Carneros. They age this wine for eight months on the lees in a mix of French and American oak for a most pleasant experience. My Bride eventually made it to the bar to join us for a glass before dinner.

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An Enjoyable Chard

We finally left Marquette and had to drive to Bay City, Michigan to attend a board meeting. Bay City has had its ups and downs over the years, but they definitely seem to be on the rise and that is great. The city is located on the water and there are hydraulic bridges that continue to operate to allow the boats to enter and the downtown area is also on the rise, as there were more storefronts open compared to the last time we were there. The night before the meeting we were treated to dinner by an old friend of my Bride and someone that I now consider to be my friend as well and there were three others that were invited as well.

We met at the Old City Hall, a restaurant that my Bride and I have been to before and I have discussed in the past. The name Old City Hall is fitting, because the building at one time was the original city hall of Bay City and at times was also the courthouse and the police station. The restaurant has a nice bar, craft beers and a nice wine list, as well as a menu that would please most people with very able people in the kitchen. I won’t get into the details of everyone’s dinner, but we did start off with a few appetizers that were shared among us. We enjoyed Beef Tenderloin skewers with candied ginger and Sriracha sauce, and a platter of Calamari sliced very thin and flash fried done with a Szechuan sauce; as a side note, this is a dish that I am often hesitant to try, because so many places over cook it and it becomes rubbery and this was not the case. My Bride had for dinner Red Curried Chicken with crisp green beans served atop Basmati rice and she was in heaven. While I had a dish of Beef Medallions with Beurre Blanc wild mushroom demi-glace, garlic mashed potatoes and the traditional summer medley of vegetables, that my Bride unabashedly liberated the vegetables that I am not partial to. This was just a small representation of the dishes and they were all seasoned differently, so everyone was very happy with their choices.

We walked over a little earlier from the hotel and were promptly seated at the reserved table. We decided that since we were going to be guests that the least we could do, was buy the first bottle of wine and since I knew that our host was partial to Chardonnay, I paid special attention to the Chards on the carte. I chose the Laguna Russian River Chardonnay 2014 and we were both immediately impressed with the wine. This wine came from the Laguna Ranch Vineyard which like the wine is owned by the parent company of E&J Gallo Winery, which when I was a kid learning about wines, was basically a jug wine company, but they have certainly expanded the scope of their wine making. This wine was lovely and when we finished the first bottle, everybody wanted another bottle, and when that was finished, we were all upset to find out that we had depleted the inventory of this wine. The third bottle that we ordered would normally be a fine wine that nobody would complain about, but it paled in comparison to the Laguna. The third bottle was Conundrum White by Caymus 2015, an excellent proprietary blend under the auspices of Charles Wagner. The wine carries a California AVA, because the fruit is harvested from Napa, Monterey, Santa Barbara and Tulare Counties. The wine is a blend of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Muscat Canelli and Viognier, but the percentages are a secret. As a rule, this wine would have made everyone happy as it normally does, but after following the Laguna, I have to say that Gallo topped Wagner that evening. We all left full and sated as we proceeded to walk back to the hotel.

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Good old New Orleans cuisine up in Marquette, Michigan and I am not making it up. For all the years that we have been going up to Marquette, Lagniappe Cajun Creole Eatery has eluded us, they are on the main drag downtown, but they have small signage and the restaurant is located on the second floor of a building with an entrance on the street and another one in the back alley off of a municipal parking lot. They opened up in 2006 and pride themselves on making everything from scratch except for the ice cream. They also have their Voodoo Bar and a gift shop called Gris Gris where one can buy their in-house specialties like Andouille, Chaurice, Boudin and Tasso; as well as Mardi Gras Beads and Masks. Lagniappe is a Cajun word for “a little something extra” or “an unexpected nice surprise.”

We were very pleased and surprised with the restaurant. It had that old time French Quarter feel to it, and it is a good thing that we did not order any appetizers, as we could barely finish our entrée dishes. My Bride had the Seafood Risotto which featured a creamy Arborio rice simmered in wine and cheese mixed with shrimp, crawfish, crabmeat and fresh vegetables. Her dish was not overly spicy, but my choice had more zing to it. I had the Crawfish Etouffee, which I have not had since our last trip to New Orleans, and this is a dish of crawfish tail meat smothered in a heavy roux sauce of minced vegetables caramelized with Cajun spices, served over rice. We did try to save a little room for a shared dessert of Beignets that were described as being just like Café du Monde, but we both found them to be heavier and doughier than what is served at that famed institution, but we tried them, because our dinners were so excellent.

What to have with our dinner? I opted for something light with just a touch of floral and spice, because I knew that the dinner would be savory and on the rich side. I chose a bottle of Ruffino Lumina Pinot Grigio Delle Venezie IGT 2016. This light straw-colored wine was just the ticket as far as I was concerned to go with the seafood and the creaminess of the sauces. This wine is only aged for ten days in Stainless Steel and is meant for quick and easy consumption and not for cellaring. The Delle Venezie IGT encompasses the three main areas noted for Pinot Grigio, namely Veneto, Friuli-Giulia and Trentino. We both thought it paired wonderfully and it was very easy to drink, maybe even easier than water. I guarantee that there will be future dinners at Lagniappe for us, and we don’t like to repeat restaurants if we can.

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Iron Bay Restaurant

While we were in Marquette, Michigan we were trying to find out about some restaurants that we haven’t tried and we were walking around the downtown area. There was a restaurant that we had enjoyed called L’Attitudes, but it had closed and we had heard that there was a “Mexican” restaurant on the second floor above where L’Attitudes had been. When we got there, we found that the restaurant was open on the main floor and owned by at least one of the partners from the old L’Attitudes. The new restaurant was Iron Bay Restaurant & Drinkery and there really wasn’t much change to the room that I could remember outside of now they had large photographs of the building and the area during the heydays of Marquette and the iron ore business days.

The conceit of the business had changed though, it was now more comfort food and beer oriented, as opposed to the more daring food and wine from the last establishment. We were there and decided to try them out for dinner and we had a nice table over-looking the marina and waterfront just across the street. My Bride decided on the Asian Chicken salad with seasonal greens, dried Michigan cherries, cashews, grated cheese, Chow Mein noodles and a Sesame Ginger dressing. I went with some old-fashioned comfort food and chose their Meatloaf Tower with mashed potatoes, gravy and fried onion strings. Half way through our dinner, I did notice that the restaurant was really filling up, considering that it was brand new and the people at the front desk at our hotel were not even aware that Iron Bay was open.

While beer was the featured beverage, they did have some wines for us to choose from. My Bride went with the Cline Family Cellars Viognier 2015 from the North Coast of California. The North Coast AVA is one of the largest in the country and some of the sub-regions are Napa, Sonoma and Mendocino Counties; there are actually eight sub-regions in the North Coast. The Viognier was a nice crisp wine with some of the perfume that I expect and I will go out on a limb and presume that it was aged in Stainless Steel, because of the crispness and it worked well with her salad. I chose the Louis Latour Domaine de Valmoissine Pinot Noir IGP Var 2014. The IGP Var is a relatively new status and pertains to Argens, Sainte-Baume and Coteaux du Verdon; it replaced the old Vin du Pays for the Southern coast of France. This was a much lighter Pinot Noir as it was aged or ten to twelve months in Stainless Steel and with a meatloaf dinner it was fine.

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THE Franc

I was in Marquette, Michigan trying to keep myself occupied and out of trouble. I guess I really couldn’t get in too much trouble as I did not have a car to explore the area, so I was left to discover on foot. The downtown area is about six to eight blocks of shops, restaurants and bars and very attractive waterfront with marinas, so this Raconteur was afoot for something interesting. I ended up in Marquette just to keep my Bride company as she had some business up there and then later in the week we had more business elsewhere. I had breakfast in a most charming and eclectic restaurant that was established in 1914 and still going strong. Donckers is a confectioner, a home-made ice cream parlor and a restaurant with the old-fashioned counter on two levels with tables on both floors as well, interspersed with all sorts of gifts. I was more interested in breakfast and I ordered their Corned Beef Hash with a couple of poached eggs and rye toast to get me started. The hash was very tasty, but quite a bit different from the more Kosher-style that I am used to back in Detroit, but I would have it again, and maybe the next time stop there for some home-made chocolates and of course some ice cream.

My Bride had touted me on Donckers and she had also suggested another restaurant that she had been to on one of her previous trips without me, and that was Vierling. For over one hundred years there has been a restaurant open that was established by Martin Vierling, it has had different owners, but the name has carried on. Vierling also was home to Marquette Harbor Brewery, but as you can surmise, I was not there to sample beer. I was there to have lunch and I was placed at a nice table with a great view of the waterfront. Since I was by myself, I wasn’t going to have anything fancy and picked out a personal size pizza with three different meats; I guess that I am pretty predictable. I might also add that Marquette establishments do not believe in small quantity when it comes to food, except for in the hotel that I was staying at.

Since I knew what I was going to have for lunch, I had to figure out what sounded interesting for a beverage to quench my thirst, because we all know that water can only go so far. I had found a wine that piqued my curiosity from Cosentino Winery from Lodi and it was a Cabernet Franc and I am very fond of that varietal. THE Franc 2015 was a charming wine from this winery that began in 1980 and they were one of the first designated and licensed Meritage wineries and that wine was called The Poet which began in 1989; I had years ago their 1998 vintage and hadn’t seen the wine offered since. In 1990 Cosentino Winery began THE Series based on a single varietal from their estate and THE Franc was a continuation of this series. The wine was aged for twenty months in a mix of French and Hungarian Oak and had that nose and color of Cabernet Franc that I have learned to enjoy and favor over the years. It was also a wine that I could really savor, in kind of a twisted way as I know that my Bride adores Cabernet Franc as well, but she left me in Marquette to do my own thing. After this wonderful lunch, I proceeded to walk back to the hotel and plan our dinner.

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Casa Calabria

We are on another adventure, albeit a minor one, in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan in the city of Marquette. We have been there before a couple of times and my Bride even more often, which is quite an achievement considering that it is almost an eight-hour drive and we never left the state. I am just along for the ride as the saying goes, but after a grueling pace last week and I have to admit that I have lost my “retail legs” this is a nice get-away. We were both amazed at the traffic jam at the bridge crossing over from the lower to the upper, but the traffic going south was even worse. Marquette is known for their iron ore and the shipping of it to other points and it has the largest population in the Upper Peninsula and it sits on Lake Superior and I have no desire to ever go swimming in that lake, as I am sure that it barely melts all of its ice floes, before they return for the next season. It has a quaint downtown area and that is where we stayed.

My Bride wanted to dine at Casa Calabria, because it was highly recommended by one of her contact people, so off we went. She wanted to walk there from the hotel, which after a long drive was fine, but there are a couple of steep hills in the downtown area compared to where we live. I also mentioned that she must have wanted to take me on the scenic route as we passed three funeral homes and after the hills, I inquired if my life insurance policy was paid and up to date and I was informed that it was; just checking. Casa Calabria is one of twenty-three restaurants owned by a family and they are scattered throughout the Upper Peninsula and the Milwaukee area. The restaurant was quite packed when we got there, and looking at the food, it was definitely a grade or two above the national chains that claim to sell Italian cuisine. We were both a bit tired and didn’t feel like over-eating and since we are getting to the age of being Senior Citizens we opted to share a fourteen-ounce filet mignon and we ordered a plate of pasta with meat sauce to accompany the meal. My Bride started off with a bowl of Minestrone and I had their Antipasto salad, which I was a little disappointed in, as it was a chopped salad with a couple pieces of salami, pepperoni and some provolone cheese, but it was better than just having a chopped salad. The filet was done to perfection as we had ordered it, though instead of a Zip-sauce there was a pat of butter on the filet, and I guess that worked as well.

Most of the people at the other tables were drinking wine from carafes of the house wine and our server seemed a little surprised that we were ordering a bottle of wine, and the bottle was uncorked at the bar and brought to us, which is OK, but no chance to check on the cork’s condition, so we basically just dived in and tasted the wine. Since we were having filets I passed on the Italian wines and chose a Malbec from Argentina, and even a lighter Malbec would be fine with dinner. The wine was Ruta 22 Malbec Mendoza 2015 and the winery also makes a Ruta 22 Malbec Patagonia, but this was not on the wine list. Ruta 22 is the name of the major route in Mendoza, and the winery was established in 2010, so it is new, but the fruit for this wine came from three different areas of Mendoza, namely Uco Valley, Agrelo and Easter Mendoza and the winery ages the wine up to two years in a mix of French and American Oak depending on the vintage. The wine had some excellent body and flavor and paired very well with our dinner, in fact the wine must have evaporated as there was none left to take home.  The winery is part of the much larger umbrella company of Deutsch Family Wine & Spirits.  Malbec, Mendoza and Argentina are almost synonymous with each other, as Malbec is the leading grape of the area and it has been planted there from the mid-Sixteenth-Century by the Jesuit priest that initially came to the area. We had a nice dinner and I knew that the way home was going to be downhill, so I was safe to pass the funeral homes again, and we could still work off our meal.

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