Kimberly and I drove north out of Kansas City on I-35, followed by a right turn near Des Moines onto I-80 East. Such an easy drive through the Iowa countryside with the sun painting a fine coat of bronze onto the brisk autumn leaves of the rural trees. Our modern chariot ate up the miles into Dubuque as we passed by so many farms along the roadside. With reservations for a three-night stay as part of our Dubuque Food And Wine event package, we checked into the Hotel Julien Dubuque at 3 o ‘clock, got freshened up in our room, and caught the shuttle bus to Diamond Jo Casino for the Friday Night Opening of Dubuque Food and Wine 2016.
The line quickly fanned out from the doorway of the Mississippi Moon Bar – flowing out into nearby slot machines and busy casino traffic. That’s where we struck up a friendly conversation with Mike, who owns a restaurant in New Glarus, Wisconsin. He recommended we make a visit there soon – to visit the local brewery and enjoy an authentic Swiss dinner. Suddenly, we were in the event venue – trading our Dubuque Food And Wine 2016 tickets for event wine glasses. We already knew from last year – to make a beeline for the tables – to acquire good seats for the evening and a central table for the excitement and bustle of the tasting.
Flipping through our Dubuque Food And Wine event brochure for the wine lists in the back, I made a fast break to the area below the stage to quickly obtain multiple food bites and wine samples before waiting in line ever became an issue. First of all, I was parched, and starving – and as I look back, that’s not always the right way to approach a tasting; but rookie mistakes run rampant when there’s so much to choose from against a running clock.
From Caroline’s Restaurant Cranberry & Orange Glazed Pork Shank with Honey Ginger Carrots to Woodfire Grille’s Seared Duck Breast with Pickled Cranberry & Apple on Butternut Squash Risotto, ‘I ate good.’ In addition, there were several tables featuring dozens of red wines to taste, such as Marietta Cellars’ Christo (Rhone Blend), Falcone 2014 Syrah, Château Cantenac Saint-Émilion Grand Cru and Michael David’s Lust Zinfandel. I bounced around that area like a pinball for at least a half hour.
After Kimberly and I regrouped at our table, chatting, eating and ranking collectively, I ventured back to the front area to fall in love with L. May Eatery’s Smoked Trout Mousse with Crisp Cucumber while she scoped out the Milk Braised Pork Collar over Creamy Polenta by Brazen Open Kitchen. She even saved some for me! Then I jetted back over to the longest line to try Pepper Sprout’s Shrimp, Sausage, & Chicken Gumbo. That line was worth it! I went back again and again for several cups and conversations about ‘down-home Louisiana cooking’ with Chef Kim Wolff. Then it was on to the ‘Rum Table’ sponsored by Paradise Distilling Company – where the party slowly swirled and swelled like a hungry, brewing hurricane.
Last year I fell in love with Marietta Cellars’ Christo, and I swear I could drink that wine all night. Plus, this year we met Michael David’s Lust Zinfandel, and that’s a bottle you could easily uncork for any special occasion. We tasted many other interesting wines as well, such as the Smith-Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa Valley and Catalpa Malbec from Argentina. And even though we don’t always agree on what tastes the best, it’s good to remember: “Never Yuck Somebody Else’s Yum!”
So many wines to taste and so little time! The slated two hours of the event went by too quick, and I personally missed the fine Tawny Ports offered the previous year. But definitely, that’s two years in a row where I can say I loved this event! And on top that, we made several new friends, including our favorite taste-pouring couple, Joyce and Jerry, from Table 2. They live here in Dubuque – and we look forward to visiting with them more on our continuing wine tasting adventure during the Saturday and Sunday portions of the Dubuque Food And Wine event. As an added extra bonus (on our way out of the casino), Kimberly won $100 on the slots – so she collected her winnings and in our collective intimate glow, we nearly glided back over the bridge to Hotel Julien, enjoying the crisp evening air so unusually mild and temperate for this late in the year.
But before we called it a night, we stopped in for a couple more beers at the Riverboat Lounge – conveniently located right next door (connected to Hotel Julien). I opted for the Golden Nugget IPA and she got the ‘Dubers.’ We escorted our drinks to a dark table in the corner as we kicked back and enjoyed the smooth piano sounds of Rosalie E. Morgan – playing songs by Stevie Nicks, Led Zeppelin and Poison. She was on fire I tell you! After a dozen great tunes and a couple of empty beer glasses, we checked back into our room for the final recap of the Hillary vs. Trump election coverage. Since Kimberly is a Wine Guide with Traveling Vineyard, we capped off the night with a glass of Tria Reserve Pinot Noir. And we’re both pretty sure, it was a truly fine way to say goodnight to our second official first day of the Midwest’s beloved Dubuque Food And Wine tasting event.