Another Beautiful Saturday for More Dubuque Wine Tasting
What a pleasure it was to wake up on Saturday morning in our Julien Dubuque Hotel room – because that could mean only one thing – more Dubuque Wine Tasting! As we got ready to feast on another wonderful breakfast at Caroline’s Restaurant, I turned on the TV to catch up on the latest wall-to-wall coverage of the upcoming 2016 Presidential Election. And that, my friends, calls for another round, bartender. Good thing we get to vote for something fun today – the best tasting soup at the annual Dubuque Food & Wine Saturday Soup Off!
Hotel Julien Dubuque Shuttle Bus To Stone Cliff Winery
As if we had a case of deja vu, we caught the Dubuque Wine Tasting shuttle bus again, right outside on Main Street, in front of the hotel; and just like yesterday, I was starving. Will I make the same rookie mistake of eating too much too quickly? We would find out soon enough – as we eagerly arrived at Stone Cliff Winery – lucky to be the first couple to wait in line to enter the event. And since we were nearly a half hour early, we soon found ourselves talking with some nice folks from Wisconsin – that we actually met right here…last year!
Our Wisconsin friends were very excited about having private reservations for the special event five-course wine pairing dinner taking place at the Hotel Julien later in the evening. (I must admit, I was truly jealous – imagining what tender meats and full-bodied reds the chef would marry together.) And I was still pondering the unique experience afforded by such a tantalizing dinner as we quickly exchanged our tickets for Stone Cliff wine glasses – preparing to make another mad dash for a proximitous table. The moment we found it, we began taking turns darting in separate directions, bringing pairs of soup samplings back to share for comparison.
Dubuque Wine Tasting Soup Off! 2016
The first soup I tasted became my instant favorite: “White Bean Soup with Smoked Ham & Crispy Potato” by Brazen Open Kitchen. Oh, man, that ham – so good! Coupled with the hearty feel of a thick navy bean stew – it had such great balance. Then I had the “Zouppa” by Stone Cliff Winery – which was like a hearty sausage white chowder that wowed me from the first spoon. I thought if this keeps up, there’s no way I can pick a clear winner. Next, we had the “Chicken & Corn Tortilla with Cilantro Cream” by L. May Eatery and then the “Tomato Florentine” from Pepper Sprout Midwest Cuisine. While they were both tasty and unique, I had “Zouppa” and “White Bean” way out front as my lead dogs. And then I met the “Thai Sweet Potato & Carrot with Sriracha Glazed Squash Seeds” by Woodfire Grille. Oh, my goodness, that tan-colored burst of flavor was like a ‘Carrot Rainbow!’ I immediately got two more servings. They were gone before I could blink. That’s it. I’m going to taste the others, but Woodfire Grille made the champion for me.
We also tasted the “Italian Beef with Giardinara” by Cremer’s. Then the “Shrimp and Sausage Ya Ya” from Galena Main Street Cheesecakes. Finally, the “Roasted Sweet Potato and Ginger” from Caroline’s Restaurant. But none could top my Carrot Rainbow! That’s when I looked over at the Woodfire Grille’s voting bucket and saw they had almost no votes. How can that be? So I got another “White Bean,” one more “Zouppa” and another round of “Thai Sweet Potato” (just for good measure). But hands down – no doubt about it. I tossed my cow-designed, pink-colored wine cork into the brass basket of Woodfire Grille and Kimberly cast hers for the Tomato Florentine by Pepper Sprout. Now that our voting was done, it was time to get some wine. We ate all that soup and hadn’t even hardly taken a sip.
It is true that the more extensive Dubuque wine tasting event happens Friday night because Saturday is more about the Soup Off! (and the specialty wines of Stone Cliff.) And that’s understandable because there is so much good soup. Too much good soup probably… Dang it! I did make another rookie mistake today. I need to just taste the soup – one sample each – not get so overloaded so quickly! I way overdid that. But I barely had room to miss the Gelato stand from last year, as well as some of the other local beer vendor samples. And to come to think of it, the celebrity chef live demonstrations looked interesting (and were packed), but I wasn’t clear on how they intimately tied into this wine and soup event.
Discovering 1,000 Stories Bourbon Barrel-Aged Zinfandel
Not slowly did I begin to wonder if the right wine for the occasion and a belly full of soup might be a pink Moscato. So I hit up that table for the two biggest samples I could before Kimberly and I settled into a couple chairs by the guitarist in the outdoor covered tent area near the river walk. Enjoying a quaffable lightly sweet red to those smooth acoustic sounds and the bright yellow sun beaming down conjured within me a resonating artistic feel. I began taking pictures because the Mississippi River was simply right there, the weather was perfect, it was the month of November and the wine was flowing like the winding river – down the stream of my throat.
But every dog has his day and all good things must come to pass. Either that or I was just totally ‘souped out.’ So we got up and headed back into the main Dubuque wine tasting room to say goodbye to our friends, Joyce and Jerry – but they had even more wine from Van’s Liquor Store they wanted us to taste! That wine tasting led to another, and then another, and more conversations about which soups we voted for, and pretty soon we were at a totally different wine tasting table – right by the exit. And that’s when we discovered the Robert Mondavi Private Selection Cabernet Sauvignon aged in bourbon barrels. Wow! What a new twist to wine. Then we happened on a Zinfandel (Kim’s favorite variety of wine) oaked in bourbon barrels called “1,000 Stories,” and of course, that one too is made in California…
Why “1,000 Stories,” you ask? Dude. Take a Northern California Zinfandel that you really, really like. Add a touch of Petite Sirah and Syrah to enhance those flavors even more with bold black and white pepper spices like you’re a wizard. Then age it in bourbon whiskey barrels to perfection. See it, swirl it, smell it, sip it, and then ever so slowly say “yum.” That’s what we were tasting, my friends. And as we drank, we learned more about the wine. “1,000 Stories” is not only a really cool name, but it’s for a great cause. It’s about the brink of extinction of our great native Buffalo population that by 1906 came damn near only 1,000 left in the country! But a strong conservation effort led the way to reverse this inevitability – which had been pioneered by Theodore Roosevelt. And it’s like a touchstone that winemaking is about passion – for a bold, rich experience – like stepping out of a western pioneer outpost and experiencing the big blue sky of the great American plains.
Exploring Old Historic Downtown Dubuque Main Street
After getting our second wind at the Dubuque wine tasting tables, sloshing bellies full of soup, and with the sun bouncing on our faces through the fresh crisp air, it was another beautiful walk back from the riverfront towards the hotel – towards Old Historic Downtown Dubuque. As we walked up Bluff Street, we explored, and we kept taking more pictures. We got a closer look at the Fourth Street Elevator and marveled at its steep incline and back story. Then we crossed back over Locust Street and wondered which bar we should try out next.
I should have checked my Fitbit because I’m sure we walked at least a mile – and that little exploration helped us stretch our legs (and our appetites). So we ventured into 1st & Main (which is, in fact, the street intersection AND the name of the restaurant). It’s a quaint rectangular joint whose architecture and brick reflect the history and appeal of Old Historic Downtown Dubuque Main Street. We sat down at a high top and ordered tacos and a beer flight to share. We got: Lagunitas Brewing Co. “Tuberfest,” Surly Brewing Co. “Furious,” Galena Brewing Co. “Anna Belle’s IPA,” Kona Brewing Co. “Big Wave” Golden Ale, Rogue Ales “Dead Guy Ale”, and Breckenridge Brewery “Avalanche” Amber Ale. Kimberly only liked a couple, I liked most of them, but they all got drank all the same. My personal favorite? I love Lagunitas, but the “Furious” is fantastic!
Another Great Dubuque Wine Tasting Soup Off! For The Books
As we finally headed back to the hotel, the sun was dropping into the hillside of Kelly’s Bluff. It was an easy hop back to the Julien, but I was on a roll and a little thirsty none the less. We turned on the TV again, found “Coal Miner’s Daughter” starring Sissy Spacek and Tommy Lee Jones, as we settled in after opening a bottle of Traveling Vineyard’s “State Room.” Love that movie and love that wine. And as it turns out, Stone Cliff’s “Zouppa” was the winner after all.
Dubuque Food & Wine – Event Contributors & Sponsors
Caroline’s Restaurant: hoteljuliendubuque.com/dining/carolines-restaurant/
Pepper Sprout: peppersprout.com