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Road trip to Bosnia-Herzegovina: The spiritual land and the spirit of wine

Shaped like a boomerang of sorts, Croatia twists around the small land of Bosnia and Herzegovina, and this strangely-drawn boundary provides the joined countries with access to the Adriatic Sea. From the town of Kaštela along the Dalmatian Coast, we left early in the morning, drove into the rough, limestone-rich hills of Croatia and passed through the border crossing in Croatia to enter into Bosnia and Herzegovina. While most border agents speed this process along, travelers from outside of the European Union inevitably slow things down because passports are taken for inspection (and, stamping!).

Medjugorje
We first stopped in Medjugorje, a small town not far from the Croatian border in the Herzegovina region of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Medjugorje is notable because in 1981 six children “visionaries” were said to have seen an apparition of the Virgin Mary while playing on a nearby hill.

Commonly referred to as “Our Lady of Medjugorje,” Catholics believe the apparition of the Virgin Mary continues to bring messages to the visionaries.  This makes Medjugorje a major pilgrimage site for Catholics all over the world to experience what is undeniably a very spiritual spot, comparable to Lourdes and Fatima.

We attended a Catholic mass at 10 am.  Father was from Chicago and alongside him on the alter were six to eight other priests – each presumably from other parts of the world. He talked about his “calling,” which came at a time when he said he appeared to look nothing like the church-going type: Hair down his back, cigarette in mouth, playing music on the streets and nurturing a long-distance girlfriend in France. His casual nature was welcomed by all and his message was strong.

The church itself is sizable, but not that much larger than one found in a major city.  However, because of the potential crowd that it draws, the mass is also broadcast over loudspeakers into the town and the immediate area surrounding the church can hold an estimated 5,000 people.  The largest group of individuals who visit are from Italy.  They have the Vatican there, but Medjugorje has the sightings and also the largest number of confessionals.  Once the 10 a.m. mass was over, another mass started around 11:15, this time in Italian.

Brkić: Herzegovina wines

It’s quite clear that the people of Bosnia-Herzegovina are deeply vested in their land… and the wines in an almost spiritual way. But that doesn’t mean that tradition and convention is for everyone.  After visiting Medjugorje, we drove a little ways to visit the winemaking family by the name of Brkić.   The wines of Brkić are about as far-removed from conventional as one can get. Located in the small town of Čitluk, a mere speck at the heart of Herzegovina wine production, Josip Brkić and his twin sons are producing fermented juice made of of Žilavka (white) and Blatina (red) that are not only as close to truly representative of the region, but also delicious and unique.

We sat down in his comfortable winery to taste several of the Brkic wines and listen to Josip and his sons tell their story.

Over 15 years ago, during a trip to Italy, Josip learned about biodynamic practices and Steiner’s farming philosophy and fell in love with the concept, which changed the course of his winemaking for good.  Brkić is probably Herzegovina’s only biodynamic grower at the time of this writing this post.  Going against all conventional wisdom, Brkić converted the family’s four hectares and set out a new path. According to Josip, being one with the land, means to be thoughtful and and to fully embrace one’s surroundings. He said something to the effect that all he needed were his hands and grapes [to make wine].  Of course, he understands that organic and biodynamic farming is risky, and not for everyone but it makes complete sense to him, thereby he creates a spirit that revolves around his wines and he radiates his belief in confidence.

Josip Brkic specializes in the indigenous white aromatic Žilavka and rustic red Blatina from his region of Čitluk in Bosnia/Herzegovina. Utilizing organic and biodynamic principals and the lunar calendar, Josip respectfully fulfills the responsibilities to the land with his desire to make wines of terroir. Greda is the name of the plateau vineyard where the Blatina fruit was sourced. Fermented by native yeast in local, Bosnian oak to soften the angular nature of the grape it is an understated  red of elegance, style with a little rusticity.

Mjeseċąr, which means the moon walker in Bosnian, is Josip’s first wine made in a complete biodynamic way and supported by the power of the moon. Moon walker is an “orange wine” (made from white grapes with extended skin contact).  All  the work in vineyard was performed according to the moon phases, from pruning, harvesting, grape selection, to the wine itself. Tasting it was like tasting passion.

The winery itself is comfortable and inviting.  Outside and in the back and down the stairs is the wine making facility and cellar. Nothing fancy, but impeccably clean and with a feeling that their life’s work all happens here and in their nearby vineyards.

Herzegovina is spiritual in more ways than one and the feeling of connection is strongly magnetic. Coming here was a pilgrimage that satisfied and nourished all the senses.

 

While in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia, look up www.travel-medjugorje.com. 

Memories of Santa Rosa

I have this mantra and it’s simple enough: Each day is an opportunity to be better than the last.

Well, for the past week, this idea that I hold so strongly was literally overcome by the continuous barrage of horrible news that came out of the California wine country fires.   It took me a week to write something because quite honestly, I’m in disbelief with what has happened to Santa Rosa, and much of Sonoma County and Napa County. It’s such beautiful countryside, with perfectly smooth rolling hills dotted with scrubby brush, giving way to verdant green valleys of grapes. The area is marked by the Russian River that meanders its way to Pacific, bypassing redwoods of grand scale. Santa Rosa is filled with beautiful parks, is home to a solid junior college, performing arts center, quaint, locally-owned shops and restaurants, hard-working families, beautiful neighborhoods, a close-knit wine community, it just goes on and on.

You see, while I’ve been a resident of Las Vegas for 12 years now, I’m still greatly connected to Santa Rosa, CA.  It’s the town where our oldest son, Michael, was born.  It’s also where I worked for 10 years, commuting from our little wine country town of Geyserville, located 25 miles north.  My first Mother’s Day brunch was celebrated at Equus restaurant, which along with everything else on that corner at the bottom of Fountaingrove, is now just ashes.  It’s where I relished my first true 18-hole golf experience at Fountaingrove golf course, of which the club house is now destroyed. So many memories in Santa Rosa.

Many of my relatives still live in Santa Rosa today, as well as friends and co-workers.  Most are still in tentative situations as of now.  Will the wind shift their way? Will another lose a house or workplace? When will they get their power back? Where do they go from here?

And as I sit here in Las Vegas, I can’t bear to see another image of pure destruction of a city I hold so dear.  I want to help.

As the fires have ripped through residential communities in Santa Rosa, and slowly crept up to Geyserville, where we resided, I scroll through friends’ Facebook posts to see who is evacuating on Walling Road. This darling little country road, dotted with just a few residences is home to Pedroncelli, Frick and Ramazzotti wineries, all close friends. As of now, their properties are spared. On social media I see photos of a 747 dropping fire retardant just east of town. I hear of friends leaving their home in hopes of coming back to it in the very near future. I receive a text from a friend who is still working the vineyard with a gas mask on.

The whole thing is heartbreaking, and I feel helpless.

It’s hard to believe that such a beautiful place is now so brutally ugly. But, while the aesthetic beauty has been destroyed (for now), I see a glimmer of hope in the way that the communities have come together.

Just like we have here in Las Vegas after the senseless mass shooting, which happened just a week before. It’s illuminating and comforting to see the closeness that occurs after such tragedy.

It will take a lot of time to rebuild the California wine country. At a time when the worst has truly happened, it can only go up from here. The beauty is still deep within. And tomorrow will be better.

Who do I see and taste in a glass of Ruchè?

Here I am getting ready for another upcoming wine tasting/seminar and I’m already thinking about what my notes will reveal.  Will I see a person in one of those wines next week?  Now that I’m fully aware of this “thing” that happens every now and then I think I’ll do a brain dump on the last person I saw in a wine before I get a pile up of people 🙂  By the way, I’m still trying to figure out if I associate a type of person with a varietal.  So far nothing, but I’ll keep putting my thoughts down, but if you think this content is strange, move onto the my last post about Santorini.

A few weeks ago, my pal Kirk Peterson brought over a bottle of Ruchè (La Miraja Ruche’ Di Castagnole Monferrato) , which is a grape grown in the Alto Monferrato  in Piemonte, Italy.  I’ve never had this varietal before, so naturally I was excited and interested.

Handing me a glass, he said, “Here, try this. It’s rrrrrrukay!”

Delighted by his enthusiasm, I immediately gave it a swirl and took a sniff. Right away, I took in its extraordinary and magnetic floral intensity, which started to present a person. But who was she?  Part of me ignored the vision of this girl from an Eastern Europe, dressed in a rust-red velvet tea-length dress with flat smooth, satin slip-ons.  The other part of me just wanted to savor this wine, re-join the conversation and forget about the girl because really, who cares?

But, back to the girl.  The vision always presents itself as a still image of a person in some form of action.  This girl is sitting at her piano, which  isn’t the jet black shiny type. Instead, it’s crafted of distressed marled wood of sorts and the setting is not at a concert hall, but rather a practice room either in a basement or music school.  This is a girl with long and thick mahogany hair is probably playing  Baroque but could also be playing rock ‘n roll from a legendary British band for variety, which could be why her talent is slowly getting recognized and taking her outside of her tiny speck of a  town.  I’m just guessing this, as I don’t actually hear anything.

Her eyes are green with lots of dark pigments of earthy-brown and ochre.  She has a small mouth with a dab of semi-sheer tint of red on her bee-stung lips. Her hands are youthful and skinny, but her fingers are long and strong, precise and determined. I was intrigued by how delightfully aromatic this wine is and how unique and funky it is on the palette. Certainly, a contrast from nose to palette.  I’m not certain it’s a wine for everyone’s taste, but I think she is a delicious experience.

Enjoying La Miraja Ruche’ di Castagnole Monferrato at Otto inside The Venetian Las Vegas.

Then I had the opportunity to taste her again this past weekend. She was much more pronounced this time – 17 and half years of age to be exact, from Eastern Europe, like I thought earlier – either Bulgaria or Romania.  She’s the only child of older parents.  The family’s hope is for her to become a well known concert pianist.  She’s not as concerned about it, though.  There is some tension in the family. Not sure why I see this – perhaps something tragic happened in the past?  I sense there is some complexity in her history, and it shows in her hands. And I’ll just leave that alone right there.

As for the wine, I’m not sure if it has any correlation to the person, but it’s a light to medium bodied wine, young, pretty, nervy, gutsy, mysterious, passionate, vibrant, yet melancholic at times.  Downright delicious.

See?  I told you I can’t describe wine like the somms.

And oh, I saved the original bottle (empty since that day) Kirk gave it to me and just took a sniff. Roses.  My son described it like the crushed pink rose petals that are inside the sachet bags.  Yep.

NOTE:  When I took a picture of the bottle for this post, I noticed the girl on the label. I knew she was there all along, but I never paid much attention until today.  Admittedly, she’s not quite the person I see, but I’m going to contact the producer and find out who the girl on the bottle is.

Santorini: Hues Beyond Whites & Blues

Striking and charming whitewashed buildings topped with azure-blue domes are perched on sheer caldera cliffs that soar out of the Aegean Sea. This is the Santorini that many people are enchanted by.  But, to go beyond the postcard is to discover the true beauty and colors of this volcanic island.

As the only inhabited volcano cauldron in the world, Santorini is already special. Sitting  half way between Athens and Crete, its crescent shaped island offers an astonishing array of contrasts.  There are jagged rocky promontories and smooth downhill slopes to the Aegean Sea, arable land crawling with volcanic rocks, deep ravines that break up the scrubby plains and the fertile slopes, grape vines trained in curious shapes, which from above, look like green sea stars invading the land.  And the sea that surrounds the island is clear, blue and calm.

Boat “lockers” are carved into the cliff walls on Santorini
What was once a round island, the center is now filled with water and remaining volcanic islands.
Aerial shot of Assyrtiko vineyard in early summer.

To scour the land by foot is to notice that volcanic rock is everywhere. From red sand beaches at Red Beach and black lava sand beaches in Perissa, the island’s colors are the product of nature’s wild side.  Santorini is essentially what remains from an enormous volcanic eruption that destroyed the earliest settlements on a formerly single, round island. It is the most active volcanic center in the South Aegean volcanic arc.

On the island’s beige, rolling plains, the wine country extends from the interior to the caldera’s edge.  At the ground level, heavy, black, semi-shiny, angular, fist-sized rocks dot the land.  Considerably smaller porous black pebbles and light and airy white pumice stones crunch under the feet like puffed rice. Walking between the vines, the whiff of salty air, mixed with the scent of ash,  blows from the sea.

It is this land that Santorini has built its reputation in the international wine market. Its aged vines, some a few hundred years old, were unharmed by the phylloxera louse which couldn’t stand a chance in this soil.  The island produces four classic varieties: the white Assyrtiko, Athiri and Aidani, and the red Mandilaria. And it’s no coincidence that they go so lovely with the food.

The wines of Venetsanos Winery.

But, Assyrtiko remains the dominant cultivar on the island, accounting for roughly 75 percent of the total terroir. It is considered the choice white grape for its ability to produce a variety of styles, from the fresh and crisp, to complex and aged, sweet and semi-sweet, to sparkling.

No one knows for sure where Assyrtiko came from, except that it has been prolific on Santorini for hundreds of years continuously.  And, it’s delicious.

The indigenous grape, Assyrtiko, grows in its “basket” at Venetsanos Winery

The vines, too, are unique to the island.  Each vine is trained in the shape of a coiled basket (or kouloura).  In the summer the “baskets” are covered in bright green leaves and within their embrace, the grapes ripen while being protected from the blasts of sand borne by the strong Etesian winds, which would knock the buds before bud-break otherwise.

Finally, from the ground to they sky,  sunsets streak the strata with colors ranging from spring lilac to plum and eggplant, and marigold to amber, as the golden sun sinks into the shimmering sea, only to rise for another glorious day tomorrow.

On Santorini there is no definition of time. It’s a magical destination worth visiting again… and again.

Aerial shots provided by @ReadyFinetti @Youtube.

 

 

 

 

 

 

When I drink wine, people show up

He’s 40ish, Peruvian (maybe), dressed in slouchy indigo jeans and a chambray shirt, standing in broken-in Birkenstocks. And, he is stressed from a recent marital breakup. While this sounds like a person, in actuality, it’s typical of how I describe a wine sometimes. I see people when I taste wine.

Looking back, I think my earliest recollection of describing a person when tasting wine is when I wrote a short piece on amarone and described her as a beautiful woman from Veneto. I suppose others would agree that my attempt to “humanize” amarone was pretty accurate. However, at the time I wrote it, I wasn’t aware of seeing anyone in particular; this was just a creative writing exercise and I just felt like describing amarone that way. But, since then I’ve been increasingly seeing images of people in my mind when I taste wine. Could this be a form of synesthesia?

I’ve told a few people about what I see when I drink wine, just to examine their reactions, and I’ve generally received positive remarks with a little wonder of “is this girl loopy?!@*#” in the backs of their mind. I get it, because rather than coming out with a description like “lemon peel, crushed rock and saline,” my descriptors are “freckle-faced, youthful 15-year-old girl, whose parents own a bakery specializing in fruit tarts.” I  do think it’s rather bizarre and almost embarassing, so and I’ve been banishing this reality for fear that I’d get dismissed as crazy and, you know, scrutinized.

But the reality is, I do see people – from all walks of life, people I’ve never met –  appear when I taste wine.  So I thought, “why not?” Let me just pour my self-conscious thoughts of wackiness (hardly sophisticated like my wine peers) in my personal blog.

So here I was sitting with all these sommeliers at a German riesling tasting last month.  And like a good journalist, I was taking notes of the presentation and describing the flavors and aromas of each wine.  Admittedly, I’m not the best at identifying these things yet, so usually my notes are sparse followed by a number of question marks (still need help with this, friends). Anyway, I was enjoying this lovely tasting and at the end of the hour, I noticed that some of my notes were descriptions of people, not the wine’s flavors and aromas. Stunned by my scribbles, I carefully flipped the page so that nobody else would notice.

A  little nutty, you say? Because I think it is.  And, I really don’t know where this is coming from.  I don’t experience this with other beverages or foods, and I don’t need to have any background on the wine that I’m tasting before someone appears in my mind.  As long as it hits my palette and my olfactories, she/he is there – with a least half the wines I taste.

So when you ask me what I’m tasting and smelling in a wine, I’ll struggle to come up with an acceptable description, like “passion fruit, banana, lemon curd and slightly effervescent…” But, don’t judge when I say she’s is in her mid-40s, tan or olive skin, former surfer, but now mother of three who lives in a beach house provided by her husband who is never, ever home.  Once extremely frustrated, she’s now rejuvenated and resilient, pouring her emotions into her new love – oil paining.  By the way, that was the Pfeffingen Scheurebe Trocken 2016 from Pfalz.  And, yes, she was vividly delicious!

So yeah.

James Beard House Evening at Costa di Mare

Cooking at the historic James Beard House in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village neighborhood is an honor that Chef Mark LoRusso experienced twice before this past March when he showcased Costa di Mare’s passion for seafood.  Inside Mr. Beard’s original kitchen, Chef created a menu that celebrated the fish and shellfish from the Italian coastline.

A Forbes Travel Guide Four Star Award-winning restaurant located inside Wynn Las Vegas, it’s no surprise that Costa di Mare’s seafood program works like a jeweled time piece – geared by 75 fisherman spinning reels of line around Italian coastal waters to deliver the freshest seafood to restaurant guests.

Chef Mark LoRusso

Inside the acclaimed James Beard House, before 63 guests, LoRusso’s goal was to stay true to the heart of Costa di Mare. “I wasn’t just proud of myself, but also of Wynn and the whole team. It took a great team to deliver,” says LoRusso.

LoRusso’s eight-course tasting menu highlighted hard-to-find breeds of fish and crustaceans shipped straight from Italy.  Each dish was paired with stunning regional wines.

“Since our cuisine is Italian, all Italian wines were chosen made from grapes that you can’t find anywhere else in Italy, except mainly in the selected region,” says Miklos Katona, wine manager of Costa di Mare.  “The goal was that the two together (food and wine) would create a higher level of joy and experience on the palate than separately!”

Following the success of the James Beard House event, guests of Costa di Mare, located inside Wynn Las Vegas, can now enjoy the exact same tasting menu.  “A Night at the James Beard House” menu is a celebration of seasonal flavors which starts with Ricci di mare con oilo – sea urchin mousse, served beautifully in a sea urchin shell, with olive oil and chives and paired with a lambrusco by Albine Canali; crudo misto di mare, a crudo trio of cuttlefish delicately sliced like “cappellini,” prawns, Sicilian amberjack and palomita is paired with refreshing and luxurious bubbles of Bella Vista’s Alma Franciacorta Brut.

 

crudo misti di seppia “capellini”, gamberi, ricciola, palomita crudo tasting – cuttlefish “cappellini,” prawns, Sicilian amberjack, palomita -Photo courtesy of Wynn Las Vegas
Bella Vista “Alma Franciacorta Brut”
ricci di mare con olio sea urchin mousse, olive oil, chives
Jermann “Vinnae”

From the organic vineyards of Jermann located in Friuli is a riveting white blend called “Vinnae” which harmonizes with scampi al burro conpiselli di primavera – butter-poached Imperial Langoustine with spring peas. Off the coast of Liguria, comes polipo Ligure all griglia- grilled octopus with crispy potatoes, olive oil-poached fennel and olives follows, which also happens to be a dish that both LoRusso and Katona share a particular affinity.

“We slowly cook the octopus to give it its tender grill marks. There is a nice char on it but not too much, just a light touch,” says LoRusso. “The dish is combined with a little bit of olive vinaigrette, a little bit of rapini, pepper based sauce, all to compliment the octopus. The octopus is the star of the dish.”

polipo Ligure alla griglia grilled octopus, crispy potatoes, olive oil poached fennel, olives, romanesco

 

Together with the Punta Crena Ca’Da Rena, the distinctively Ligurian wine makes a profound pairing from a very special coastal region of northwestern Italy.

“What brings this two elements together, besides that it is a marriage made in the heaven, that not just the flavor but the unique texture of the octopus being complimented by the round texture and wild white floral  aromas of the pigato grape grown on  old vines (35-40 years-old), supported by just enough acidity!” says Katona.

Miklos Katona, Wine Manager at Costa di Mare

Next on the tasting menu is risotto Sardo – Sardinian Red Mullet, bottarga and risotto with mussels.  Bottarga is a local favorite from the island of Sardinia.  It is a brick colored cured fish roe that is shaved on dishes for added flavor and texture. It is best enjoyed with the captivatinig Jankara “Vermentino di Gallura, a 100 percent single vineyard vermentino, also from Sardinia.

Finally, the rombo con caviale Oscietre  – line-caught Mediterranean Turbot with butter-poached leeks and Osetra Caviar –  is an exquisite fish with a perfectly crispy skin making way to a flaky white flesh that harmonizes with Anselmi “Capitel Croce,” a powerful, pure and fresh white wine from the Veneto region.

rombo con caviale Oscietre – line-caught Mediterranean turbot,
butter poached leeks,Osetra caviar

The dinner finishes with bright limoncello semifreddo with limoncello cream, poached rhubarb, strawberry and coconut streusel.  Complemented with a passito from a Sicilian producer, Planeta, the wine is made with moscato bianco grapes that undergo a special drying process that results in a concentrated dessert wine showing explosive aromas of exotic and candied citrus fruits.

Guests who experience the James Beard House dinner at Costa di Mare will be swept to far away Italian waters for a thoughtfully-created, grand seafood feast, quenched by delicious regional wines not readily found in other parts of the globe.

Costa di Mare’s mesmerizing view at Wynn Las Vegas

Popping the tops of wine in cans

Marisa Finetti and Kirk Peterson

Yeah, put your pinkies down.  We’re talking about wine in cans, and generally speaking, when it comes to drinking – especially wine from a can- it’s a good strategy to not overthink it. Take for example Francis Ford Coppola’s packaging for Sofia Blanc de Blancs, which practically says, “I’m sipping on sparkling wine through a straw out of a mini sized hot pink can, and I’m just going to go with it.”

Oregon’s Union Wine Company markets their Underwood-branded canned wines with YouTube videos that poke fun at oenophiles who over-analyze their beverage.

Paso Robles-based Field Recordings winery packages their wine in tallboy 500 ml cans which recommend drinkers to enjoy by tonight, tomorrow & this weekend.

Finally, the The Infinite Monkey Theorem says their “ridiculously good wine” is made in a back alley of an art district with grapes sourced from the western slopes Colorado. Kind of like the idea that monkeys randomly pounding on a typewriter are capable of producing the work of Shakespeare. We get it.

These eco-friendly, recyclable, portables are the ultimate “take anywhere” beverage, but how do they taste? Here’s a virtual tasting:

1.     Union Wine Company – Underwood

Rosé
Comparatively pleasant due to its lack of flavor, akin to drinking slightly fizzy alcoholic rose water.

Pinot Noir
Virtually devoid of aroma, which is notable for a wine claiming to be made from an aromatic varietal. Light, yet quaffable.

Buy: Trader Joes $7/can
unionwinecompany.com $28 4-pack

2.     Field Recordings
 

Alloy Wine Works – Pinot Noir
Lean on the palate and candied on the nose with strawberry aromas that are decidedly Twizzler-like and confected. The first impression is more reminiscent of Beaujolais than Pinot Noir but with a slight chill the wine is pleasant and drinkable.

Fiction Red
This Zinfandel-based blend was definitely one of the best wines of the lineup. Aromas of ripe red raspberry and black pepper supported by a smooth texture and ample concentration of flavor. If you didn’t witness it being poured you probably wouldn’t suspect that it came from a can… which would be a solid gauge of success for a canned wine company.
Buy: fieldrecordingswine.com $30-40 4-pack

3.     Infinite Monkey Theorem


Red
What this wine may lack in concentration it makes up for with sheer unpretentious drinkability. Medium bodied and relatively refreshing for a red wine with dark red fruit and suggestions of savory herbs that make this wine one of the better wines of the tasting.

Moscato
With a nose full of peaches and white flowers this sweet semi-sparkling wine basically delivers what it promises: Moscato in a can.

Buy: infinitemonkeytheorem.com, $15 4-pack

4.     Sofia Mini Blanc de Blanc
The only sparkling wine of this tasting, it seemingly appeals to a niche “Sex in the City” crowd – wanting a grown up drink.  Made of pinot blanc, sauvignon blanc and muscat, it comes in an adorable little can, complete with a bendable straw.
Buy: Target, $17

Like their bottled brethren clearly not all canned wines are created equal but don’t judge a wine by its container, there is real wine to be found in cans if you’re willing to search it out.

This piece originally appeared in VEGAS SEVEN http://www.vegasseven.com

The Buzz on Grab ‘n Go Coffees

By Marisa Finetti & Kirk Peterson

Prized for its ability to cool and caffeinate, iced coffee is a warm-weather ritual. Ready-To-Drink single serving versions are perfect for on-the-go, but which one will you choose – the traditional iced coffee, or the increasingly popular cold brew? I’ve teamed up with sommelier and beverage director of B&B Hospitality Group Las Vegas Kirk Peterson (a fellow coffee addict and contributing wine writer) to taste (and smell) a sampling of both styles to help “filter” through the choices.

Cold Brew (CB):  Created by steeping ground coffee in room temperature water for 12+ hours, the result is typically unadulterated flavors and aromas of coffee with less acidity.

Iced Coffee (IC): Brewed hot coffee that is cooled instantly is often blended with flavor enhancers resulting in a tasty, often-time sweet and milky beverage.

1. Chameleon – Espresso Coffee (CB): This medium-bodied black coffee is round, supple and smooth with Swiss Miss cocoa-like qualities and a mellow finish.

2. Stumptown Original (CB):  Portland-based coffee roasters’ original brew is ever-so-slightly reminiscent of instant coffee crystals.  Quite angular and high-acid for cold brew, this lightly-roasted style offers aromas of bell pepper and over-steeped tea.

3. Kohana – Sweet Black (CB):  Delicate and faintly sweetened (by monk fruit) coffee has aromas of caramel, walnut, and banana. Zero tannins makes it soft and easy to drink.

4. High Brew – Double Espresso (CB):  Boldly flavored with medium acidity and a touch of condensed milk, making a creamy and generous coffee that reminds of chocolate milk and butterscotch.

5. Lucky Jack- Old School (CB):  Las Vegas coffee company delivers a lightly effervescent brew that recalls the aroma of a fresh-brewed pot of classic diner Joe with good body, mild acidity, and minimal bitterness.

6. illy issimo Caffè No Sugar (IC): This Italian coffee company offers outstanding, bold taste with all the qualities of freshly-brewed espresso (cold): velvety texture, measured earthiness, balanced bitterness, and a smidge of caramel.

7. Bob Marley’s One Drop- Coffee (IC): Made from Jamaican beans, the taste is creamy, sweet, and smooth with subtle vanilla and cane sugar flavors.

8. UCC Original with Milk (IC): The original coffee in the can from Japan is light, sweet, milky, slightly bitter, and charming in its simplicity.

The Buzz:  If you’re more of a Frappuccino fan and prefer your coffee softened with sweetness, then go more for the traditional iced-coffee.  Drink cold brew if you enjoy a well-crafted coffee-flavored coffee, tend to enjoy your coffee unadulterated by cream and sugar, or are worried about your hipster street cred.

This piece originally appeared in VEGAS SEVEN http://www.vegasseven.com

Omakase dining at Sen of Japan

It’s the way we dined in Tokyo. Hanging out with dad at his favorite sushi spots was like visiting friends, who just happened to be master sushi chefs that knew your palate. Like magic, they’d prepare stunning, one-bite dishes that were presented over the counter like a sacred ritual. Indeed, it was a gift of honor and respect was paid by savoring it.

Dining omakase (o ·ma·ka·se), a Japanese meal that consists of dishes selected and coursed entirely by the restaurant’s sushi chef, is the most traditional way to enjoy sushi. For the true sushi lover and adventurer of food, it’s like receiving a series of surprise gifts, which are hand-crafted with thoughtful care just for you.

After a hot hand towel (oshi·bori) is presented to cleanse your hands and dietary restrictions covered, then it’s time to relax and welcome a multi-course selection of deliciousness. With exacting precision, chef prepares the freshest fish of the moment, not to mention fish of the highest caliber. Each one requires a different mastery.

In Las Vegas, Chefs Hiromi Nakano and Shinji Shichiri of Sen of Japan deliver an experience that keeps the curious and adventurous coming back for more. The product of two masters from the Las Vegas strip – Nakano from Hard Rock Hotel & Casino’s Nobu and Shichiri from Bellagio’s Shintaro (now Yellowtail) –  there is no denying their culinary talent and synergy. Sourcing only fish that exceeds their expectations translates to an unsurpassed dining experience.  And if you’re seeking to discover more about any of the fish they serve, ask anyone and they’ll be able to tell you where it was caught and when.

Here is a look at their recent offerings. Next time I go, it will be completely different.  That’s the beauty of omakase.

Kanpachi (amberjack) with roasted garlic slivers, sea bream with micro greens and kiwi vinaigrette.
Sashimi salad featuring four different fish: Suzuki sea bass, Big Eye tuna, Scottish salmon and fluke presented with garlic oil and capers.
Poached lobster from Maine with spicy lemongrass dressing and sun-dried beets.
A Sen of Japan signature dish – Alaskan black cod, topped with foie gras, flash-fried shishito pepper, wasabi aioli and crushed red peppercorns.
Succulent cuts of filet mignon served with Peruvian bell pepper sauce, asparagus and micro greens.
Assorted nigiri (L-R): Akami (lean blue fin tuna from Spain) brushed with wasabi soy; Japanese snapper, shiso leaf and sea salt; Shima ahi (striped jack), kombu and yuzu soy; fresh scallop with spicy lime dressing; seared Tasmanian ocean trout with spicy ponzu sauce; tekka maki (tuna roll)

 

Obento box with house-made chocolate soufflé and green tea ice cream to finish the evening.