Friday, March 1, 2013

Grape Sense Has Moved - Please Bookmark

After five years, I've moved the blog to a new platform. Just click the link above and bookmark the new site! Thanks for reading Grape Sense - A Glass Half Full

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Tuesday, February 26, 2013

AVA Adds Credibilty to Indiana Wine

The Indiana’s Uplands region being declared an American Viticulture Area Feb. 12 is good news for all Midwestern wineries.

Grape Sense LogoThe U.S. wine industry is driven by tourism. For those who take wine seriously and want to learn more about wine, hitting up AVA-designated areas assures a level of serious winemaking and even quality.

Michigan leads the way in the Midwest with four AVAs: Fennville, Leelanau Peninsula, Lake Michigan Shore, and Old Mission Peninsula. Ohio has four AVAS: Lake Erie, Isle St. George, Grand River Valley, and Loramie Creek. Illinois has the Shawnee Hills AVA and shares the Upper Mississippi AVA with Minnesota, Iowa and Wisconsin.

The Ohio River Valley AVA is shared by Ohio, Kentucky, and Indiana. Kentucky has no other designated grape production area and Indiana did not until the Uplands announcement.

bordelon4Blog“It just kind of affirms what we already know that we have some excellent grape growing regions and they’re unique here in the Midwest,” said Bruce Bordelon, Viticulture Specialist at Purdue University. “The Uplands region is different than southwest Indiana. Posey County and Gibson County have different climate and soils. There really is a difference in the (grapes) that we grow and the quality that we get between regions. It’s those little minor differences that makes vintages special and make our varietal-labeled wines special.”

Oliver Winery, near Bloomington, IN., is one of the Midwest’s largest. With production in the 400,000-case range business is good. But Oliver embraced the Uplands news every bit as much as the other eight wineries in the Uplands.

Oliver4Blog“It allows us to qualify as a true viticulture area and raise the level of awareness that there is something special about this region,” said Kathleen Oliver, Executive Vice President. “Hopefully, we’ll be able to capitalize on that by saying there is something really unique about these wines. We are producing great quality wines; we can do it just like Napa and Sonoma. We are something special. And it gives us the opportunity to look for a more premium price.”

The nine established wineries in the Uplands AVA are Best Vineyards Winery, Elizabeth; Brown County Winery, Nashville; Butler Winery, Bloomington; Carousel Winery, Bedford; French Lick Winery, West Baden Springs; Huber Winery, Starlight; Oliver Winery, Bloomington; Turtle Run Winery, Corydon; and Winzerwald Winery, Bristow.

Fall - Christmas Good Time to Visit Uplands Wine TrailJim Butler, Butler Winery also near Bloomington, spent nearly 10 years working to achieve the AVA designation. He agreed that Indiana has a niche with white Traminette and red Chambourcin wines that are grown throughout the Midwest and excel in the Uplands region. But he also sees other wines doing well and a future for more traditional plantings.

“Late harvest Vignoles and Vidal does wonderfully,” Butler said. “We’ve been doing Chardonnel. I think we’re going to see some more viniferas (think traditional wine grapes) planted. “It takes four years to plant a vine and then get your first crop. It’s going to be a decades-plus process to zero in on those varieties that are going to give us the product that we want.”

The 4800-square-mile Uplands AVA stretches from the Morgan-Monroe County line near Bloomington south to the Ohio River. The east-west boundaries run from Jasper in Dubois County to Knobstone Ridge near Starlight, overlooking the Ohio River Valley.

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Monday, February 25, 2013

Five Years Later, Grape Sense Making a Move

It's pretty simple but will be seamless for regular and occasional readers of this blog. I'm moving it to different software and a more easily identified URL. Or, you might call it taking advantage of what I've learned from five years of wine blogging!

This blog is written on a fine, and easy-to-use, software platform from Google - it's called Blogger. It has gotten many a blogger writing on many different topics a start in online writing. But there are more sophisticated programs out there which offer far more options.

On the business side, this blog has been about 'building a brand.' I've experimented a lot and know what gets hits here and how it has nicely complimented my newspaper column.

The move will have later this week or weekend. Unless you have Grape Sense bookmarked, most reader will never notice the URL change. Most of my hits come from Google searches and Facebook/Twitter postings. I provide a link in those social media postings so no one needs to remember or bookmark my address.

The new site will categorize the posts I've written to date - or nearly 700 of them. It will look different but be quite easy to navigate.

I will also leave a post at top of this blog for some time with quick easy direct to new site. Stay tuned for the arrival of the moving vans and my new home for Grape Sense!

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A So-So French Rouge and Nice Blanc

French wine isn't all $1,000 a bottle. The crazy things that happens with French futures and the high-end Chateau wines from Bordeaux grab the headlines but there are plenty of tasty treats at all price points.

Here is a look at two wines, a red and a wine, which are pretty easy to find and both under $15.

Chateau Peyros 2006 Madiran - This southern Bordeaux wine is probably best suited for a red wine drinker who want's to try an easily affordable Bordeaux. Madiran is the appellation area while the grapes are Cabernet and a grape that will be unfamiliar to some, Tannat.

Tannat is the dominant grape in the Madiran region and also found in Uruguay. There's also a little Tannat grown in Virginia and California. Indiana's Jim Butler, at Butler winery near Bloomington, recently told me he is planting some tannat.

Tannat is a grape that produces a tannic wine that is intended for aging. It's most often blended with Cabernet and the other more traditional Bordeaux grapes.

These are dark wines with big flavor and can be quite rich and wonderful. They can also be too dry, leathery, and off-putting. Any wine with a dose of Tannat probably needs decanting.

The Chateau Peyros is easy to find but definitely needs that decant. I tasted it after pouring through a good aerator but found it lacking much fruit. I searched a few online reviews and found many agreeing with my first impression. Those who let the wine open up certainly liked it more than those of us who opened and poured.

Its a nice wine. It generally gets good marks 90-ish from critics. But on consumer driven wine review sites the wine scores lower. It's hard to recommend this wine because many are not going to care for it. Some will even find it thin straight from the bottle. If you have the patience to decant a couple of hours or more and like trying the proverbial 'something different,' then Chateau Peyros is worth your try.

Chateau Peyros 2006 Madiran, $14, Recommended, with reservations noted.

Chateau La Tour de Beraud 2010 Costieres de Nimes - If you like tart citrus, lovely blance, and crisp acidity - clap your hands!

This is a really delightful Southern France white wine. Generally, classifying wines to the season is geeky-goofiness that just doesn't matter. I like to live by the rule that if you like it - drink it.

I prefer these crisp whites in the summer but really loved this one in mid February with pasta. The Beraud has an aluring nose that hints of mineral and bright citrus.

There seems to be a touch of peach and a little satisfying sour/tart characteristic on the finish. The wine is made from Grenache Blanc, Rousanne and Marsanne grapes - the classic Southern French wine grapes. These are great grapes and wine blends to try. And, the Southern Rhone and Languedoc regions are making some wonderful value reds and whites which taste far above their often meager prices.

Costieres de Nimes is southern most Rhone and often associated with the ancient Romans. Romans planted some of the original vineyards in the ancient area.

Chateau La Tour de Beraud 2010 Costieres de Nimes, $9-$11, Recommended!

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Thursday, February 21, 2013

Saturday is Open That Bottle Night

One of the joys of keeping a substantial amount of wine in your home is occasionally reaching for the good stuff. No! Don’t wait until a birthday, visit from a special friend, or otherwise unusual occasion. Just open the damn good bottle of juice and drink it because you deserve it.

Such is the thinking behind the annual Open That Bottle Night. Saturday, Feb. 23, is the 2013 OTBN so start thinking now.

OTBN has been around since the late 90s, brainchild of Dorothy Gaiter and John Brecher. The duo were wine writers for the Wall Street Journal. They left the venerable old American newspaper icon in 2009 after 11 years of wine column writing.

They came up with the annual “Open That Bottle Night” in 2009 to encourage wine enthusiasts to open a special bottle of wine and share the story with others. 

Now you don’t need a wine column or a blog to participate. Think how much fun it would be to invite a friend or friends over and pop open something really special. 

For me, it’s going to be a great Oregon Pinot Noir or maybe a California Cab. I probably won’t decide until the last minute Saturday. 

OTBN is always the last Saturday in February. But don’t wait for another year to roll by before you grab a bottle of the good stuff “just because.” You can celebrate OTBN any night of the year!

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Thursday, February 14, 2013

A Classic Sonoma Label Produces Great Blend

It's almost always a safe bet that when you're dealing with a company that has been in business for more than 100 years that they probably know what they're doing.

Kunde wines sort of falls into the category of something I've often seen on wineshop shelves but never previously bought. I didn't have a positive or negative impression - just didn't know much about Kunde wines.

A friend bought my a mixed case of goodies from Napa Sonoma last fall and it included a Kunde 2007 Red Dirt Red blend. I recently opened it and it blew me away. This is darn fine wine for around the $30 price point.

It's a great American-grown, Italian blend of Barbera, Petite Sirah, Syrah, Zinfandel, and Sangiovese. It has really nice intense red fruit, spice, nicely balanced and a lasting smooth finish!

Meat off the grill or red sauce-based dishes would rock with this wine. I had a nice round tip roast, medium-rare, that made a perfect companion. I'm anxious to try more Kunde wines.

Kunde 2007 Red Dirt Red, $28, Highly Recommended.

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Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Wine's Best Friend: Dark Chocolate

The world is awash in boutique wine, craft beers, herbs and spices galore. Some call it the Food Network effect. One of wine’s best friends, chocolate, has evolved with a similar Renaissance.

“I think over the past 15 years there has been an evolution of foods, in general, and specialty foods,” said Indianapolis chocolatier Elizabeth Garber. “It has happened to cheese, with craft beer, and even wine. Chocolate has done that too. 

“Chocolate has been around for ever and ever, but then you started getting people specializing in the craft of chocolate and the higher quality and the artistic side of chocolate. People started creating it more visually and it became more about the palate. Now it’s what flavor profile is in the chocolate and what works well with chocolate. Today you can find spices and things like that in chocolate products.”

Wine and chocolate have been a natural pairing for a long, long time but it’s not as simple as grabbing a bottle or wine and a chocolate bar. There are far too many options not to explore the possibilities.

Chocolatier Elizabeth Garber
“There are levels and strengths in terms of sweetness,” Garber said. “A white chocolate is going to be sweeter because it has a lot more sugar in it.  There are some grades of milk chocolate that sweetness depends on the amount of sugar, milk and cacao in the chocolate. Then you get in to darks which are going to get more bittersweet, though you can have really sweet dark chocolate too. 

The higher the percentage of cacao you have on a bar means more cacao and less sugar. Garber explains the 80 percent you see on a chocolate bar means 80 percent cacao and 20 percent sugar, cacao butter and other stuff.”

And simply enough the more bold the chocolate, the bigger red wine you’re going to want to pair with the sweet treat. Chocolate ranging from 60-75 percent cacao pairs great with big red wines. Any bold red wine will do but experimenting will help you find your favorites.

But chocolate today is more than a plain chocolate bar. “We do a cinnamon basil and it might go well with one thing versus another,” Garber said. “A milk chocolate could be paired with a Chardonnay or whites. Sometime that sweet white wine with a honey/lavender truffle is a great pairing. A sweet floral chocolate might pair better with white than just a red. So many people just think red wine with chocolate but you can mix it up.”

Garber has been a chocolatier since 1994. She started in her home and then opened a business just south of Indianapolis. She now has a sizable shop in Indianapolis’ trendy Mass Ave district called “The BestChocolate in Town.”

Garber's truffles feature unique flavor combinations.
She mixes all sorts of spices, fruit, and even beer in her truffles to challenge her customer’s base palate. “There has been this slow evolution going on,” she said. “It’s sort of like jams and jelly; it used to be just grape and strawberry. Now you have pepper jellies and all sorts of combinations. So now chocolate has evolved and continues to expand in new directions.

Flavored truffles give wine fans a chance to really experiment. Boutique chocolate shops have popped up in cities of all size. Chocolate and wine is a very seductive treat for Valentine’s Day!

Howard’s Pick: Try a 70 percent Cacao Truffle with hints of coffee with a big fruity Zinfandel Delightful!

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Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Uplands AVA Adds Credibility for Indiana Wine

Editor's Note: Here is story I did for Palate Press and the 22 newspapers which carry my every-other-week column. Big news for Indiana wineries today!

INDIANAPOLIS, IN. – Indiana winemakers believe validation and credibility come with the federal government’s designation of the Indiana Uplands in southeast Indiana as an American Viticulture Area (AVA).

Jim Butler talks about the AVA
Indiana Secretary of Agriculture Gina Sheets, members of Purdue University’s Wine and Grape team, along with representatives of Indiana’s nine Upland wineries made the announcement Tuesday at the Statehouse. Butler Winery owner and winemaker Jim Butler has pursued the designation for nearly 10 years. The U.S. Department of Treasury’s Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau granted the designation as the Indiana Uplands.

“I think what we want to develop now is when people see the name Indiana Uplands, it conjures up something in their minds about the area and the wines,” Butler said. “We want customers to have a real familiarity they can depend on knowing that they’re going to get a good wine.”

The 4800-square-mile Uplands AVA stretches from the Morgan-Monroe County line near Bloomington south to the Ohio River, a distance of more than 100 miles. The east-west boundaries run from Jasper in Dubois County to Knobstone Ridge near Starlight, overlooking the Ohio River Valley.

“This legitimizes the area as a grape growing region,” said Kathleen Oliver, Executive Vice President of Oliver Winery. Oliver is one of the Midwest’s largest wineries. “I think that’s something we already knew. We have something special in our topography with well-drained soils and a climate ideal for growing grapes. This raises the level of awareness that there is something unique about our region. It’s just like Napa or Sonoma, we are now something special.”

There are more than 200 AVAs in the United States including the Ohio River AVA shared by West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky. Butler said most southern Indiana wineries have never wanted to use the AVA designation which would force them to put “Ohio” on their Indiana-made wines.

But Bruce Bordelon, Purdue’s Viticulture Specialist, said it takes more than a designation or label to make the Uplands stand out. “Quality is always the goal whether it’s Michigan, Indiana, Ohio or Washington and California,” he said. “This is an affirmation that what we’re doing is successful and mainstream and good as any region in the world.”

Indiana has approximately 650 acres in vineyard and 63 bonded wineries. A substantial amount of Indiana wine is made from grapes grown out of state. The nine established wineries in the Uplands AVA are Best Vineyards Winery, Elizabeth; Brown County Winery, Nashville; Butler Winery, Bloomington; Carousel Winery, Bedford; French Lick Winery, West Baden Springs; Huber Winery, Starlight; Oliver Winery, Bloomington; Turtle Run Winery, Corydon; and Winzerwald Winery, Bristow. There are also a few vineyard-only properties.

The winemakers acknowledged the big step is using the AVA designation to push quality, increase tourism, and sell more wine. “The big marketing point is they’re going to be able to put Uplands AVA on their wine bottles,” said Jeanette Merritt, Marketing Director, Indiana Wines & Purdue Wine Grape Team. “When people go out to buy wine they are looking for those special designations. Having the Uplands designation on the bottle and being able to promote that is going to encourage people to buy those wines.”

Butler said it’s a process that could take decades, but an important first step.

Dan Adams, winemaker and owner of one of the Uplands’ smallest wineries, Winzerwald, said everyone from Oliver to his small operation benefits.

“We have to get the word out and tell people we have unique qualities like a Napa or Bordeaux,” he said. “We’ll eventually achieve the same level of recognition that other areas have achieved. Some of those areas have had years, if not hundreds of years, head start on us.”

The Uplands wineries also have regular wine trail activities. Check out their website here.

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Indiana Gets Its Very Own AVA Today

It will present a very favorable marketing challenge, but Indiana wine is on the map today in an entirely new way. Later this morning in Indianapolis the Lt. Governor, Secretary of Indiana Agriculture, and nine Indiana wineries will announce the Federal government's approval of Indiana Uplands.

Indiana Uplands becomes the first state American Viticulture Area. Indiana has shared the Ohio River Valley AVA with Kentucky, Ohio, and West Virginia, but this will be the first all-Indiana AVA. The wineries in the region include two heavyweights - Olivers and Huber.

I'm on my way down and will update the blog when possible throughout the day. It's a really exciting day for Indiana wine.

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Thursday, February 7, 2013

Shop Local! Two Delightful Ladies Rocking Chocolate

Elizabeth Garber
The more you get into food and wine, the more most people get into the local farm-to-fork movement and buying local products.

With Valentine's Day just one week from today, many Americans are thinking chocolate. My newspaper column went out to the newspapers today featuring comments from Elizabeth Garber, Indy's Best Chocolate in Town owner and chocolatier.

That column will be posted here the first of next week. But many people will be buying chocolate this weekend and I wanted to plug two friends in the sweets business.

Garber's story is one of building success form the ground up. She started small in Franklin, Edinburgh, and then opened her now-highly-successful shop on Indy's Mass Avenue. She has wonderful truffles with all sorts of flavored ganache. She has flavored popcorns and many other chocolate treats.

Her truffles just rock!

But I also know Julie Bolejack owner and chocolatier with her business Chocolate for the Spirit. She also has delightful truffles and all sorts of chocolate treats.

Julie has taken her chocolates on the road and won accolades at the New York Chocolate Show and had her goodies served at Super Bowl parties and the MTV Awards.

Bolejack and her chocolate treats!
One of her best known treats is her Mayan bar. It is very unique and attention getting spicy chocolate made with Saigon cinnamon, chipotle and chili spices - according to Julie's website. Julie also has a booth at Indy's popular City Market. She participates in several farmer's markets as well.

There are other artisan chocolate makers in Indy, I'm sure. But I've bought regularly from these two and have gotten to know them just a bit. They both have a fabulous product line. Both business have great websites linked here. You can learn more about where to buy the product.

Wine prices are always listed in every review I do on this blog. So it's fair to note that both of these chocolatiers make a premium product with a premium price. Depending on the exact product, you can expect to pay an average of $2 and up per truffle.

I make recommendations - okay, maybe this one sounds more like a plug. But there has been no chocolate kickback ... well, maybe a bite here and there. But these are local businesswomen succeeding at high and very tasty level.

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Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The Ying and Yang of the Wine World

There isn't much of a bigger contrast than a soft and very nice Oregon Pinot Noir and a well-rounded, but acidic Italian Sangiovese-based wine.

These are widely available wines, easy to find, at the $23 to mid $30 price range.

La Maialina 2007 Chianti Classico - This is classic Chianti that is really drinkable Italian wine. I find a lot of Chianti, usually at a lower price point, unbalanced and too acidic. This wine may not have huge fruit but has nice balance.

The laMaialina needs some decanting but opens up very quickly and nicely. It had the typical cherry flavors with some earthy or woodsy hints. The acid was in balance. The wine was certainly smoother than most Chianti wines. I liked it a lot.

Top critics like the wine as well. James Sucking gave it 90 points and said the wine, "Makes you want to eat." Robert Parker's Wine Advocate went even further bestowing 92 points.

I have to thank one of my favorite wine retailers, Bethann Kendall at Vine & Table in Carmel, In. I've written many times in five years that wine newbies need to find a good wine shop, a retailer they trust, and then take their advice. Bethann hit this one out of the park.

La Maialina 2007 Chianti Classico, $22.99, Highly Recommended

Soter Vineyards North Valley 2010 Pinot Noir - Soter Vineyards is certainly a big name in Oregon's Willamette Valley. Some how through three visits and plenty of consumption, I've managed to never taste their wines until recently.

Soter makes some great Pinot. Let's start there.

I think there is a real sweet spot for great wine in Oregon at the $30-$40 price point. This is a bit of a price structure you quickly pick up on if you visit the Willamette Valley. Everyone seems to have an entry level wine around $20-$30, then a mid price point at $30-$45, and top end of $45-$70.

I think you can buy some really great wines at the mid price point. These are Pinot Noir wines tasting far above their price point.

This wine was an example of better than the $30 retail price. The wine was beautifully aromatic with hints or red berries and spice. I liked the wonderful balance from tip of the palate fruit to a silky and lasting finish. Geeky words, indeed, but the best description I can give it.

Wine Advocate and Steven Tanzer each awarded this wine 90 points. I'd agree, if not maybe a single point higher.

Soter Vineyards North Valley 2010 Pinot Noir, SRP $30, (Trade Sample) Very Highly Recommended

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Monday, February 4, 2013

New Castle Courier-Times 22nd Paper Carrying Column

I haven't really pitched the column recently but had an old newspaper/editor friend reach out to me over the weekend wanting to add Grape Sense to his newspaper.

Editor Randy Renfeld, who once worked for me elsewhere, is adding Grape Sense to the New Castle daily.

Now instead of "nearly" 300,000 homes monthly I can say "more than" 300,000 homes monthly.

Thanks Randy and welcome aboard New Castle!

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Sunday, February 3, 2013

Super Bowl Day Deserves Super Wine

Terry Hoage at his Paso Robles Vineyard

I keep a number of wines in two storage units where some are snuggled away for aging but most for special occasions. I always treat myself to one of those prizes on Super Bowl Sunday. On top of that, it's my birthday week. I'm only going to say it's a BIG one! Ha! I've been thinking of opening this wine for a few months and today could not be more perfect.

What better than to open a wine from a winery owned by a former All-American at the University of Georgia and finished in the Heisman Trophy top-five voting his senior year? He not only won a Super Bowl in 1992 with the Philadephia Eagles but had a 13-year NFL career.

Terry Hoage Vineyards has become a landmark Paso Robles winery producing the kind of big,b right and smooth wines Paso has become known for in recent years.

Hoage's 2007  "The 46" is a 50-50 blend of Syrah and Grenache. The wine has rich plum and bright fruit flavors. Sure, the Syrah comes through with wonderful spice and earthiness but the often-sweeter-on-the palate Grenache provides perfect balance. If you've ever read a wine review, shelf talker, or blogger who talked about "velvety tannins" on the finish and thought "huh?" - you need to taste this wine.

For the football fans, the "46" is a salute to the style of defense Hoage played under colorful NFL coordinator and head coach Buddy Ryan.

The critics loved this wine. Wine Advocate gave it an outstanding 93 points. Cellartracker members rated it 90.3.

I had the chance to meet Hoage during a wine press trip in the fall of 2010. We had a "Rhone Rangers" tasting seminar at his winery. A couple of us scooted to the tasting room before leaving to buy a bottle.

I don't collect much wine memorabilia or trinkets, but I do collect signed bottles. Hoage signed this one for me as you can see above!

Terry Hoage Vineyards "The 46," $50, Very Highly Recommended. UPDATE: I had originally posted this particular vintage was sold out but heard from the winery they do have a very limited amount available but only at or directly from the winery. The Hoage website linked above also has a 2010 vintage listed for $55.

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For Traditional Italian Dinner, You Gotta Go to Mama's

During travel around the country for wine or work, I like to throw up a short blog post about any great restaurant visit. Living 45 minutes northwest of Indianapolis doesn't afford me many opportunities to get into the city to the better spots, but I make a point to eat well in Indy whenever I can.

iPhone shot of my Rosemary Chicken Lasagna!
An impending birthday (well, they can't be avoided so embrace them) was the reason to head to Broad Ripple on Indy's north side and a visit to classic - Mama's Corolla's!

Mama's is a very busy spot for folks in the know looking for great Italian. I had been there once before and remembered it as good but Saturday night was off the charts good.

We started with the fried ravioli and a light marinara dipping sauce. The ravioli, with cheese stuffing, was toasty and delicious. We also had wonderful calimari - small pieces which were crispy and a great dipping sauce that had a hint of horseradish.

Mama Corolla's on 54th near Broad Ripple!
My dinner was a signature Mama favorite, the Rosemary Chicken Lasagna. The old-fashioned sweet marinara was a perfect companion to the chicken, herbs, and cheese. It was one of the best entree's I've had in a long time.

We split a piece of Ricotta cake garnished with blackberries. All the time we were enjoying a big fruity and soft Italian Ripasso.

I love the new chef-driven and farm-to-fork restaurants popping up. But once in a while the classics can't be beat!

Oh Mama, you make me so happy!

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