Hello Kitty Wine

I was recently introduced to a surprise wine, Hello Kitty sparkling, through an article passed along by a fellow Dad and I started to laugh. My daughter loves Hello Kitty and being a Dad, I like the label too. But what would this mean for a wine? 

Further reading led me to find out it is created by Torti in Oltrepo Pavese, a wine region in Lombardy, Italy. They make a few different wines, highlighted by a sparkling rose made out of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay ($24).

I've never minded a little fun with wine, including labeling, and will look for this. Hopefully I enjoy a glass, my daughter can enjoy the bottle.

Build Your Wine Cellar with Vintage Cellars

Custom Vintage CellarThe storage of a wine collection is crucial to the maintenance and enjoyment of any collector’s investment.  The proper combination of humidity, light, and temperature is ideally done in a way that makes it easy for oenophiles to display and access their collection.  When a collection expands beyond the size easily stored in a wine cabinet, it's time to consider installing a wine cellar in your home.

For wine collectors in the Chicagoland area who are ready for this step, there are a number of options available which allow local residents to design and install a cellar for your wines.  Whether you are seeking to convert your basement, or want to install a small alcove in a pantry, Vintage Cellars offers custom designs for spaces of any size in addition to wine rooms premade for installation.   In approximately 8 weeks, they work with you to take a drawing of your wine room’s available space and design a completed cellar.  They recommend customers use a contractor to complete work on the walls, floor, and any needed HVAC work for a cellar cooling system.  Vintage Cellars is also happy to recommend a Chicago area contractor, or work with your crew to ensure that walls and floor meet the specific needs of your wine collection.  Once the cellar is ready, they'll install the rack system designed for you.

The company is run by wine lovers who truly appreciate the value each wine holds for its owner. Collectors benefit from Vintage Cellars’ extensive experience aging and storing wines when choosing materials for construction.  Personal consultation gives attention to the cellar’s look, feel, and storage with a variety of offerings available including flooring reclaimed from wooden wine barrels for an exciting and unique, wine-focused touch.

For more information on how a wine cellar can contribute to the enjoyment of your collection read up on proper wine storage, then check out Vintage Cellars at their website: www.vintagecellars.com.  And if you need help filling your new wine cellar with prime investment & drinking selections, don't forget to contact me at windycitywineguy@gmail.com.  Happy collecting, and happy drinking!

Wine Guy On Demand Launches

Ever been stuck with the wine list at a business lunch and had no idea what to order?  Wanted to impress on a first date but weren't sure what wine would do?  Buying wine for a present but not sure if it was good enough for a friend's cellar?  Tried a bunch of Wine Apps with automated responses and no rhyme or reason?  Well, as a trained and certified sommelier, I've been answering these types of questions for years.  I decided to make myself available to everyone at any time of the day.  Here's how it works:

Download Wine Guy On Demand from iTunes straight to your iPhone (look for more versions in the future!) and all the answers to your wine questions are just moments away.  Type in some simple information and submit your question.  If I'm Online, you can expect a detailed answer in minutes.  If I'm Offline, no problem.  Your question will be stored and answered as soon as I return.  It's that simple!

There are many Wine Apps out there, but I'm aiming to provide a one on one connection you just cannot get from an automated database.  Think of it as having a sommelier or wine guy in your pocket!

Champagne Keeps Getting Greener

Vineyards of Vizernay, Montagne de Reims, ChampagneNew Programs Continue Multiyear Carbon Reduction Campaign:

As Earth Day approaches, the Comité Interprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne (CIVC) is furthering the Champagne region's leadership in environmental preservation with new initiatives to reuse woody biomass and wastewater from wine production.  
The region has launched an appellation-wide program to transform the 150,000 metric tons of wood waste generated from vineyard pruning into energy, reducing pollution and helping replace fossil fuels used in wine production with a renewable source of energy. 
Through this BIOVIVE (Biomasse Viticole) initiative, the Champagne region is working with local utilities to cut the current carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions by 10,000 metric tons per year, the equivalent of taking 5,000 vehicles off the road. 
Similarly, wine production results in 600,000 cubic meters (m3) of wastewater and byproducts each year. Since 1990, when only five percent of wastewater was treated and reused, the Champagne industry has steadily increased its environmental stewardship; now 95 percent of wastewater is treated and 91 percent is recycled. 
"Champagne only comes from Champagne. The distinctive land and climate of Champagne cannot be replicated elsewhere and the people of Champagne understand that they must be protected to preserve the region's centuries-old wine-making tradition," said Sam Heitner, director of the Champagne Bureau, the U.S. representative of the CIVC. "These efforts are just a few of the environmental initiatives that the Champagne region has undertaken as part of its campaign to reduce the region's carbon emissions 25 percent by 2020."
Champagne is not merely a type of wine; it is a unique region with a long history of winemaking expertise. Located 90 miles northeast of Paris, the region covers less than 80,000 acres. Only grapes handpicked in the carefully delineated plots inside the appellation can be used to produce Champagne. The CIVC, comprised of all the grape growers and houses in Champagne, has led these environmental initiatives to ensure that Champagne continues to focus on quality and preserve its unique wine-growing location. 
The region's leadership in emission reduction began in 2002 with the first-ever wine region environmental impact assessment. Based on the audit results, the Champagne region set itself the goal of cutting carbon emissions 25 percent by 2020 and 75 percent by 2050.
To achieve this, there are currently more than 40 initiatives to reduce the region's environmental footprint. For example, after the CIVC determined that the production, packing and shipping of wine bottles accounted for 33 percent of the region's carbon emissions, it announced a new standard bottle in 2010 which, at more than two ounces lighter, will reduce the region's annual CO2 output by 8,000 metric tons, equivalent to the annual CO2 emissions of 4,000 cars. The new design consists mainly of changes to the neck of the bottle and was tested extensively to ensure that it maintains the performance, safety and character of the bottle historically used in the region.
"In 2002, the Champagne appellation showed true leadership by engaging in the most comprehensive environmental audit of a wine region that had ever been conducted," continued Heitner. "Introducing a lighter bottle, reusing wood waste and capturing wastewater are small steps that, when implemented throughout the region, help make a significant difference in the carbon emitted from the Champagne appellation."

- Information obtained from the Champagne Bureau

New Year's Wine Resolutions

So we're just over three weeks into 2011 and though I'm sure everyone came into January with a New Year's Resolution or two, it's never too late to add another, especially if it involves wine!  Here are a few suggestions for you to try out:



  • Add more wine to your diet.  Wine consumption has many benefits.  It's been proven to be beneficial for your heart and overall health, reduce your chances to be afflicted by cancer and aid in weight control.  This, of course, should be done with moderation.  If you stay in the 1-2 glass range (6-12 oz.) then you will be in a beneficial zone, whereas if you exceed that amount on a regular basis, you could actually harm yourself in other ways: cirrhosis of the liver or other forms of cancer could result.  Add more red wine to your diet and you should live a healthier life.
  • Add to or start your collection.  A personal wine collection can aid you in a number of areas like entertaining, investment, wine knowledge, respect and a sort of coming to age.  Your friends will be impressed when they visit (and drink your wine!), your wine will grow in value and maturity, and you'll feel more full and accomplished.  If you haven't started your collection, splurge and pick out a collectable bottle to get started.  If you already have one, do the same!
  • Try new wines.  I meet so many people who only drink from France and California, Italy and Spain, Australian, etc.  It's great that you like those wines, but there's a whole world out there full of different varietals and styles.  Pick out a new varietal, country or growing region and check out something new.
  • Wine/Food Pairings.  Certain wines go best with certain foods.  Try to get into classic pairings like goat cheese with Sauvignon Blanc, caviar with Champagne, lamb with Bordeaux rouge, etc.  Then try new pairings like Thai with Gewurztraminer, grilled beef with Argentine Malbec or pizza with Zinfandel.  Try to see how they one enhances the other and help you enjoy the experience all the more.

These are just a few ways to incorporate wine more into your life and I'm sure there are many more.  Let all of know how you plan on doing it or if you decide to take any of the suggestions above!

Quick Takes from Wine Bloggers Conference Walla Walla

I just returned from Seattle and the Wine Bloggers Conference in a hellacious flury of planes, trains & automobiles.  I'm also trying to recover from seven days of traveling, tweeting, taking photos & film, trading business cards, seminars, eating, some BSing, networking and wine tasting.  Now it's time to enjoy my family and home, and get some rest!

But before I do that, here are a few thoughts on some codes I live by and what I experienced:

Beautiful countryside and great land for growing.  Not only is the countryside blessed with great views, mountains, hills and just plain nature, but also with growing land.  The ability to grow so much great fruit: apples, raspberries, cherries (the biggest I've ever seen!), apricots, pears and of course grapes along with wheat and hops means this is extremely fertile land.  Since they can make great fruit, they can also make great wine.

You haven't seen it until you've been there.  I've heard many stories about Washington state and Walla Walla, but almost everything I heard was forgotten after my experience.  I've heard it compared to a "prehistoric" Napa, desolate land, full of nothing but farmers, shack wineries, etc.  But the town opened itself up to us with professional B & Bs, polite and knowledgeable winemakers, quaint yet classy tasting rooms, very good food and wine.

Passion writing, rapid messages and video.  This is the best way to keep fans interested, attract new readers and leave people wanting more.  If you're passionate about anything you do, odds are you will reach your goals and have fun doing it, while infecting others with it along the way.  People want to be captivated online, but only for a few minutes.  The online viewer has these moments to check out your site, get some entertainment and off to the next.  Reach them in this time and you'll be an accomplished online presence.  There is tremendous passion in the blogging community.

Stay true to yourself and your readers.  People will love you for your honesty and transparency.  Don't hide behind an agenda.  Even if you write for work, make sure you pick your employer carefully and you believe in their product.  If you have advertising on your site or promote a product, believe in that as well.  If you accept free samples, make sure to be truthful in your opinion of whatever you review- it may have been free, but that shouldn't buy you off.  Your readers are counting on you.  There is great integrity in the blogging community.

Wine sure is fun.  There may be this snobbish tag placed on wine by a number of people, but it's just a fun beverage.  Life is a celebration and wine is a member of the band.  With so many inexpensive bottles, it's easy to experience.  It goes great with food and they have a symbiotic relationship- they can make eachother taste better.  Winemakers are out there to make a product for us to enjoy, restaurants and chefs make us enjoy it more, sommeliers and wine writers make you understand it better.  Read a little, taste more and drink alot!

Stay tuned for more info and videos about the conference, Washington and wines from the Windy City Wine Guy on the Road.

Tenzing Embarks on Chicago Journey

Three big names in the Chicago wine scene are embarking on a journey to bring quality wholesale wine and spirits to local restaurants as well as loads of wine knowledge.  As reported by Crain's, Tenzing Wine and Spirits is a new venture by Fernando Beteta, Master Sommelier and former Wine Director of NoMI, Doug Marello, former sommelier of L20 and Wine Director of Spring, and Ken Fredrickson, former VP of Wine Marketing at Wirtz Beverage Group

The name comes from Tenzing Norgay, a Nepali-Indian Sherpa mountaineer who guided Edmund Hillary to the top of Mount Everest.  This will be a another kind of journey, of wine and spirits tastings and knowledge.

Tenzing will focus on bringing their portfolio to the Chicagoland market, while educating consumers through their blog, along with classes and tastings in their storefront on 165 N. Morgan Street.  This is a smart idea, bringing the consumer in direct relation with the distributor and their products.  In Illinois with regards to alcohol, we have a three tier system where you'll have the manufacturer or importer selling their product to a local distributor, who in turn re-sells the product to restaurants, bars and wine/liquor stores.  More consumer demand for your distributed product will inevitably lead to wider availability and demand in both restaurants and wine shops.

Some items in the Tenzing portfolio include Block Nine Pinot Noir, Ayala Champagne and Domaine Select Wine Estates.  We'll look forward to more products as they're added and the tastings and classes which follow!

Upcoming Posts

Hi everyone!  Spring is here and for wine that means new life in the Northern Hemisphere and Harvest and Crush in the Southern Hemisphere.  There's alot going on, it's been a very busy month and I have so much to share.  Here's a little bit about what you can expect from the Windy City Wine Guy in the next week:


  • Al Fresco dining.  Chicago's bars and restaurants will be opening their patios to patrons eager to enjoy food, drink and the weather.  I'll be sharing some of my favorites.

  • Whiskey Fest 2010.  I was fortunate enough to be a part of this event for the 2nd year in a row and I will be sharing all that I tasted with you.

  • Kentucky Derby is coming up and a great time to find some wine pairings and what is a mint julep?!

  • Cinco de Mayo is also coming up and I have some great wine and bev recommendations to go with Mexican cuisine.

  • Reynoso Family Vineyards.  I received samples from this small batch winery and will share my tasting notes with you.  They look to be a part of the Chicago wine market in the upcoming months.

  • Chilean wine.  I attended a Wines of Chile tasting and discovered so much great juice.  Looking forward to writing about that.

I'm glad that I have a great audience to share my tastings with.  Knowing that I am not the only benefactor of my experiences drives me to write and keep on the move.  Thanks!

WBC or Bust!

I'm always up for a challenge, and wineCHATr.com is putting it out there: 12 citizen wine writers are being given the opportunity to catch a free ride across Washington to attend the Wine Bloggers Conference.

I will now be writing about Washington wine for the next month plus to try to win my behind a seat on that bus!  I've been crazy about Washington wines for quite some time now and for many reasons: good quality, great value, wide range of varietals and numerous subregions.  So I will be sharing my enthusiasm with all of you about this great state for wine.  We'll run through the regions, producers, history and my favorite wines.  So sit back, put your reading glasses on, pop open a bottle and get ready to learn about Washington!

Open That Bottle Night 2010

Every year on the last Saturday of February is "Open That Bottle Night".  This is a night where you can take that special bottle of wine you've been holding for a special occasion and uncork it!  Enjoy it with a special someone, friends, family or by your self.  It doesn't matter what type of wine, where it's from or how much you spent on it, as long as it's special to you. 

This creative evening was started in February of 2000 by Dorothy Gaiter and John Brecher, wine critics formerly with the Wall Street Journal.  They've been celebrating it ever since, and though they aren't affiliated with the OTBN website, many stories full of special bottles and nights are listed.

Now here's a little about what the Windy City Wine Guy has in store for tonight:

I love to stay in with my family, open a bottle (or two) and cook.  I've resolved to give up all red meat and pork for Lent, so I will be making a fish dish tonite, Farfalle al Salmone e Piselli.  Start off with these ingredients: olive oil, butter, shallots, salmon (I like to use both smoked and wild filet), sweet peas, farfalle pasta (bowtie), tomato paste, heavy whipping cream, black pepper, salt and chili flakes.  It's a pretty simple dish and here's how I make mine:

  1. Heat olive oil and butter in a sautee pan and add chopped shallots.

  2. Add the filet of wild salmon.  It will break apart as it cooks.

  3. When the salmon nears medium rare, add the peas and smoked salmon.

  4. While this is cooking, bring hot water to boil with olive oil and salt.  Add the farfalle and cook for 7-8 minutes for al dente.

  5. Add heavy whipping cream to sautee pan along with tomato concentrate.  Finish off with black pepper and chili flakes.

  6. Combine and toss pasta with sauce.  Done!

For this I will be opening a bottle of '01 Poderi Aldo Conterno Barolo "Cicala".  Barolo wines come from Piedmont in the Cuneo province, just southwest of Alba.  They are made from the Nebbiolo varietal and produce wines which are lighter in color, but higher in acidity and tannin, and full bodied.  They typically have essences of earth, roses and tar, along with ripe red fruit flavors.  They react well with heavy sauces, fat and proteins, plus the acidity matches well with tomato sauce.  They were traditionally cellar aged for many years, to mellow the tannins and acidity, but new style producers have been making them a bit more ready to drink upon release, though it's still is better that they age.  Since the Cicala is an '01 vintage, I feel tonight is a great time to open it!  I will be sharing it with my wife and a few candles, while we eat and watch our baby.  Sounds like a great Saturday night to me!

Leave a comment about your OTBN plans or tell me about them on Twitter: @WCWineGuy.  Enjoy!

Women and Wine Lists: Take Charge!

I've worked in my share of restaurants where countless times you'll see a large group, mostly business diners, seated and presented a wine list.  If they aren't wise, they will hand the list to an individual (it should always be place in the center of the table), and it almost always ends up in the hands of a man.  Though it doesn't really mesh with current civil rights standards, it is unfortunately very normal and customary.  Now ladies- this is only one of many reasons why you should empower yourselves with wine knowledge and snatch that menu out of the hands of men!

Being able to order wine for a table can be construed as a courtesy, but it also demonstrates knowledge, position and power.  First off, you can display your knowledge of wine and impress your coworkers.  Secondly, you can show that you either deserve your current position or a better one because you can take charge.  Lastly, you can empower yourself, dissolve stereotypes, and order the wine that your group will enjoy.  Now let's get to some things you should know before you grab that list:

  1. Have basic wine knowledge.  No one is saying you should know if Chateau Leoville-Barton is better than Chateau Pouget or the difference in vintages of Batard-Montrachet, but you should know the difference between Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir.  Know that you basically start with a sparkling wine with appetizers, whites with many soups and salads, and a deep red if everyone is going with steak.

  2. Order enough.  Every "regular" wine bottle contains 750 ml- good enough for 5-6 people to get about one glass.  If your table is larger than 6, you have a couple options: order more than one bottle or go large.  Many restaurants carry bottles in larger formats (1.5 liters or more) which are perfect for large groups and cost less than purchasing two regular bottles.

  3. Navigation.  Generally, wine lists are structured the same in regards to bottle selection.  They normally start with sparkling and white wines and then move onto reds.  These can then be subdivided by country (France, Italy, Australia), region (Burgundy, Tuscany, Napa), varietal (Chardonnay, Riesling, Merlot), or style (dry whites, fruity reds, full bodied).  Get your basic knowledge areas in all of these and you can navigate any list.

  4. Ask for help.  Even the biggest wine afficionado asks for recommendations from their server or sommelier.  Make sure to give them as much info as possible: what you like, how much you prefer to spend, and what everyone plans on ordering.  Never hesitate to ask questions- it's your experience and your money (or your company's) so make sure you're getting what you want!  Also, remember that the wait staff works with the list daily and the sommelier tastes and orders all the wine- trust that they know what they're doing!

  5. Find value.  If you're worried about overpaying for wine, you are in the wrong place.  Restaurants typically markup their wine 2.5 to 4.5 times the wholesale price in Chicago.  Knowing that, you have to pick the wines that are priced best wholesale.  These are typically off-varietals (Carignan, Pinot Gris, Zinfandel), off -regions (Rogue Valley, Sicily, Montsant), or value countries/continents (South America, South Africa, Spain).  You'll not only find good wines but good prices as well.

So start studying ladies!  Grab your Wine 101 books, surf the web (windycitywineguy.com!) and research.  Get that basic knowledge, take charge at the dinner table and at the workplace!

(image courtesy of flickr)

The Arboretum of South Barrington: Uncorked from the Heart

The Arboretum of South Barrington is Chicagoland's newest outdoor playground.  You can dine, shop and play in the company of trees and gardens out in the 'burbs.  On Thursday, March 4th, you can also catch a special event: Uncorked from the Heart.  For $40 in advance ($50 at the door) you can experience wines from around the world and cuisine prepared from six Arboretum locations : Cooper's Hawk Winery & Restaurant, L'Eiffel Bistrot & Creperie, Gold Class Cinemas, Pinstripes, Ruth's Chris Steakhouse, and Acquisitions for the Home.  The evening starts at Pinstripes, an awesome space which features 18 bowling lanes, 10 indoor/outdoor bocce courts, outdoor patio and fireplace, Italian/American food and wine, and blues and jazz bands.  The fun moves from there to the other venues with shuttle service all night long.  Come out and enjoy an awesome suburban wine and food evening!

Wine Grapes and the "Dirty Dozen" Foods

I recently received an email from a reader asking about the "Dirty Dozen" of top 12 foods you should buy organic and how this affects wine.  Imported grapes are on the list at #10.  Vineyards can be sprayed by multiple pesticides and no matter how much you wash them, the contaminants have already penetrated their thin skins.  Another point to remember about this is that it does not only apply to imported grapes.  Domestic grapes are still on the EWG's Shopper's Guide to Pesticides (at #21).  Also, this applies mainly to grapes grown for food and juice.  As for wine, vineyards are normally maintained by the farmers following sustainable guidelines.  In Europe, the European Crop Protection Association keeps a close eye on both grape and wine production.  For those who use pesticides, testing is conducted to ensure they do not surpass the maximum residue level for contamination level.  In almost all cases, contamination is at zero after the wine is ready for bottling.  Australia has strict government guidelines as well. 

In the United States, I am sorry to say, it's business as usual.  It is up to producers, landowners and citizens to watchdog themselves.  I am proud to say that many Americans have stepped up to watch over their land and their neighbors.  Most realize that it's a small and beneficial change over to organic practices.  Large producers like Fetzer, Sutter Home and Frog's Leap took the plunge into organics to create a safer environment for their workers and for preservation of the vineyards and water supply.

My best recommendation would be to go with producers who use sustainably, organically and/or biodynamically farmed grapes ("green grapes").  European and Australian wines should be fine as well.  Unfortunately, due to the lax regulations in the US, I cannot vouch for our producers who don't use green grapes.  Visit producer websites, research or contact them for more info.  After all, it's your health, your money and your wine experience!

Chicago Semifinalists for James Beard Awards

The Semifinalists for the James Beard Foundation Awards 2010 have been announced and the list is littered with Chicago establishments and professionals.  It's always exciting to see how well Chicago does with these awards and to bask in the fame that is given to our culinary scene. 

Now for those of you who don't know, the James Beard Awards are a BIG deal.  They've been called "The Oscars of the food world," by Time magazine.  They are named after one of the biggest names in American culinary history, Mr. James Beard.  Mr. Beard was born in Portland, Oregon, in 1903.  His mother ran a boarding house and began an 81 year culinary journey into American food.  He was dubbed "dean of American cookery," by the New York Times.

Now let's get to our Chicago nominees:

The finalists will be announced on March 22nd at the Palace Cafe in New Orleans leading up to the Media Awards presented May 2nd and the James Beard Foundation Awards given out on May 3rd.  Good luck to all Chicago Semifinalists!

Gary Vaynerchuk on Today Show for Super Bowl Wines

I woke up early this morning, grabbed my vitamins and water, and turned on the Today Show to find Gary Vaynerchuk giving out his Super Bowl wine picks.  This comes a day after I gave out my Chicagoland available wines and favorite carryout/delivery spots for pizza, wings and chili.  Needless to say, I'm always interested in what @garyvee has to say about pairings, plus he's pretty entertaining to watch.  So here's what dishes were picked and what to pair with them:

First, they started off with chicken wings, which Gary paired with an Albariño, which is a grape varietal used in northwest Spain to make white wines with high acidity, low alcohol (great for spicy dishes) and possessing peachy flavor.  I like this pick, but I think Alsatian varietals like Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc or Riesling would work better, a rosé wine or even a New Zealand Pinot Noir. 

They then went to pizza, and Gary pulled out a Touriga Nacional, a varietal grown in Portugal and normally used to make port, but in recent times makes colossal wines from the Douro.  These wines have a large structure and tannins so it could be a good pairing, but I like reds that match well with the tomato sauce.  Italian reds like those made from Montepulciano, Sangiovese or Piedirosso varietals work great with tomatoes because of their bright acidity and cherry flavors. 

Lastly, the focus went to sausage and peppers (and I am a HUGE fan), which Gary paired with Cava, a sparkling wine made in Spain, normally out of three indigenous varietals, Macabeo, Parellada and Xarel-lo.  I've always been a huge advocate of sparkling wines being a go-to for almost any pairing, but I will have to travel back to Italy and grab either a Super Tuscan, which normally has better tannins to go with the oily sauce and sweet peppers, or Aglianico from just outside of Napoli in the south.

Most of these wines can be found for $15 or under, which is great.  Gary has some great picks on his online store, Wine Library, or if you live in Chicagoland, just check out my Best Buys, travel to your local wine shop and grab a few bottles.  And enjoy your Super Bowl!

Healthy New Year's Resolutions, Weight Loss & Wine

OK, so we're finally done with Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, New Year's Eve, etc. (though the Super Bowl is coming up!) and it's time to undo some of the damage that's been done and lose some poundage.  Hit the gym, pound the pavement, eating right, yoga classes, whatever gets you to sweat it out.  But all of this does NOT mean you have to give up some of your favorite beverages; namely wine and beer. 

Studies have shown the redeeming health benefits of MODERATE consumption of wine and beer.  I am not telling anyone to go out and fill your fridges with beers and pantries with wine or that you will lose weight if you take in these beverages.  But one to two drinks daily, and no more, promotes HDL lipoprotein (good cholesterol) which removes cholesterol from the bloodstream and transports it to the liver for removal.  Wine also contains flavonoids (polyphenols) and resveratrol, both known as antioxidants, which help slow cellular damage to the body and prevent plaque and clotting in the arteries, preventing cancer, heart disease and promoting cardiovascular health.  Beer, on the otherhand, is great because it contains many nutrients and vitamins from grains and yeast which survive the fermentation process.  You can also consume light beers which will give you the same benefits with less calories.

Still, I have to preach moderation.  Neither beer nor wine will actually help you lose fat.  Only a cut in calorie intake, proper diet and exercise will help you with that goal.  But when you reach your goal weight, those beverages will help you maintain your health and weight. 

If you overindulge in beer, wine or spirits, it will prove detrimental to your overall health.  Your liver will suffer from overuse and you could gain weight from the excess calories of the beverages and possible "munchies" consumed during lowered will power.

So when you embark on your 2010 diets, remember to count your beverage calories in with your overall daily intake.  This will lead you to your fat/weight loss goals as well as to you enjoying more of your favorite beverages.  And a longer, healthier life!

(Image courtesy of flickr) 

Birthday Wines

So it's that time of year again, when everyone you know sends best wishes for you chalking up another year of life, and you start getting ready for a new one.  It's your Birthday!  This is a time to reflect upon the life you've lived and to imagine the life you still have yet to live.  In that same frame of mind, it's also a time to reflect upon all that you have tried and still have yet to.  This applies to travel, food, wine, experiences, etc.  But now it's time to celebrate, so pick out your favorite meal and your favorite bottle(s) and share them with the people you love the most!  I put together a list of some of my personal favorite affordable wines, as well as one of my favorite meals and a special wine we shared out of my stash.

For some of my personal favorites, let's start with:

  • Rivetti La Spinetta "Ca' di Pian" Barbera d'Asti.  This wine has been produced by Giorgio Rivetti since 2001 and has been my favorite Barbera ever since.  His '03 vintage was outstanding, but any vintage will work from this excellently steady wine.  You can expect a deep ruby color, alot of great fruit like cherry, blueberry, raspberry, and currant, along with full body, smooth tannins, and balanced acidity.  Available around $24.

  • Tamarack Cellars Firehouse Red.  I love a great blend and this one has it all: Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Sangiovese, Carmenere and Petit Verdot.  This comes from one of my favorite wineries in Washington state, operating out of a restored WWII fire station.  Fresh red fruit, plum, tobacco, pepper, and cocoa are some of the sensory highlights.  Available around $18.

  • Bodega Colomé Estate Malbec.  This wine is made from 90+ year old vines grown at the highest altitude (for grapes) in the world.  A bit of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Tannat are thrown into the mix, and this deep, dark wine is full of flavors like fig, blackberry, plum, mocha and exotic spices.  The long length leaves you wanting more.  Available around $26.

  • Argyle Willamette Valley Pinot Noir.  A small Oregon producer specializing in Pinot Noir and dabbling in award winning sparkling wines, Argyle makes a fine example of this varietal.  Gushing with red cherry, cranberry, cinnamon and fresh floral notes, you can't go wrong spending less than $23 on this wine.

  • Niepoort Redoma Tinto Douro.  This is the first dry wine made from renowned port producers made from port typical varietals like Tinta Amarela, Tinta Roriz and Touriga Franca.  Dark fruit and chocolate are surrounded by creamy layers, ripe tannins and fresh herbs.  Hard to believe how far Portuguese red wines have come and this great example is available for around $30.

  • Villa Maria Cellar Selection Sauvignon Blanc.  Coming from down below in New Zealand, this wine offers pink grapefruit, pineapple, lime, white pepper and fresh flowers.  The acidity and minerality will blow you away.  Perfect with goat cheese or oysters.  Available around $20.

  • Bodegas Viña Magaña Merlot.  This amazing Merlot comes straight out of northern Spain, and is nothing short of amazing.  Dark fruit, minerality, exotic spice, fresh flowers and grippy tannins are just a few notes you can expect out of it.  You can expect it to cellar well, if you can keep your hands off it that long!  Available around $45.

  • Feudi di San Gregorio Fiano di Avellino.  This little known wine is made 1 hour outside of Naples, and is packed with serious tropical flavor.  Bananas, pineapple and mango mix with minerality and creaminess.  I can't believe you can get this for around $23.

I could go on and on, but I will leave you with those favorites and a bit from my Birthday dinner.  I was happy to go at my favorite activity, cooking, to make us a great dinner.  I took Italian sausage and roasted it over sliced bell peppers, onions and garlic which were tossed with balsalmic vinegar, extra virgin olive oil, sea salt and cracked pepper.  I then sauteed mushrooms, garlic and spinach with olive oil and red wine, and combined it with tomato sauce.  All this combined with al dente fettucine and grated parmesan made up one of my favorite dinners.  Add a bottle of 1997 Tenuta dell'Ornellaia and I had all I needed.  This SuperTuscan is made up of Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot, and is considered one of the finest wines in Italy and the world.  So much power, balance and length makes it hard to argue.  It is the total package with loads of fruit, espresso, cocoa, licorice and cedar box.  If it weren't priced at over $150 every release, I would be all over this wine on a daily basis!  Needless to say I had an awesome birthday and will be looking for more wines and experiences to fill my time ahead- cent'anni!

(image 1 courtesy of flickr)

Twitter Cheap Wine Challenge

Buying wine can be a tricky thing because unless you've tasted the wine before, you're going in blind.  You can do research or get friendly tips, which definitely helps, but you still won't know if the wine will be worth YOUR dollars.  Taste is subjective, and while your girlfriend might have loved her $65 Don Melchor Cabernet Sauvignon or your buddy may have loved his $7 Ruffino Chianti, you may not.  But no matter what you pay for a wine, it's always important to get your value out of it.  I've spent $60 on bottles that I thought were worth $100, $50 on bottles I thought should be $10, and vice versa.  That's why it's so important to remember that price and value are two completely different things.

In the spirit of getting the most out of your money, Raelinn Schmitt of Wine Ophelia has started the Twitter Cheap Wine Challenge.  The contest is open to all bloggers, and all that has to be done is to share your favorite nationally available and priced under $10.  All entries must be in by January 15, with a huge blind taste challenge on January 21 to determine the winning wine.  Here's my wine choice:

The NV St. Cosme Little James Basket Press was a wine I bought at Binny's Beverage Depot last year for $8.99.  I went for it based upon it's unique nature.  It's a south Rhone red wine made by Louis Barruol (no relation to Billy Baroo) from 100% organically grown Grenache out of a solera system, known best from sherry and marsala production.  Different vintages are combined so that you get a steady product every release, making this a non vintage wine.  Each release is a compilation of older vintages and 50% current vintage.  It comes with a medium-full body with loads of fresh fruits like cherry and blueberry, along with licorice, black pepper, and exotic spices like clove and cinnamon.  The finish is medium plus in length (a good ten seconds) and it's topped off with a stelvin enclosure (screw cap) making it easily accessible!  Try pairing this with anything from the grill, especially lamb- the char, smoke and game will meld well with the wine flavor.

I have a hard time picking out favorite wines, but when I thought of an interesting and good wine that I've tried recently, Little James was the first to come to mind.  I even used it to help build out my last client's inventory at Catbridge Cellars, which is comprised of mostly of earth friendly (sustainably, organically, and biodynamically grown) wines.  I don't have this wine listed on my Best Buys just yet, but it will be soon.   Hope it's on everyone else's after this tasting too!

Tasting Notes: Useful, Yet Harmful?

Have you ever read the back label of a bottle of wine and been more confused than before you picked that bottle up?  Ever read a wine magazine tasting note or review and said,"What are you smoking, and can I have some?"!  As a sommelier, I've talked to many people who get so confused or turned off by these, that they just end up asking for a "house" wine, or forego the grape altogether and grab a beer.  So what's the deal with all the big, exotic words used to describe these wines and how do you know you'll like them?  Here's a guy's eye view to what to expect:

Most of the questions I get regarding this subject sound something like this: "so does this wine really have cherries in it?" or,"do they really make that wine with blackberries and plums?".  Follow this tasting note from Wine Spectator about Etienne Guigal's 2006 Côtes du Rhône (CDR):

"A textbook version, with mesquite and tobacco weaving through a core of crushed plum and blackberry fruit.  A licorice edge frames the lightly grippy finish." 

If I take a look at this through the eyes of a wine novice, I would have a hard time figuring out what's going on.  How do they flavor this wine and is it made with all those fruits?  Well, the first thing to remember is almost every wine you see in reviews and shops/stores are made solely out of grapes (some are made with other fruits, but it will always be stated on the front label).  These reviews and "tasting notes" are simply that: an expert telling you what flavors they pick up through smell and taste of particular wines. 

Wines are fermented fruit juice, with most wines available to us made of grapes.  A large number of factors influence how the finished wine tastes when it reaches your palate: how the grapes lived their summer life, how they were fed (fertilized), what kind of weather they experienced, what pests, molds, funghi they encountered, how they were aged, was oak used, etc.  The vineyard, farmer, and winemaker have the biggest impact on the finished product.  You should also be weary of your vendor and how the wines were stored.  Many factors can also affect a wine after it's in the bottle as well: light, temperature variation, vibration and moisture.

Once you come to learn these few facts, you shouldn't be intimidated- just use the tasting notes as a guide to find what kind of wines you like.  Some wines are described to taste like gooseberries, figs, black tea, raisins, graphite, etc.  Just because this reviewer picked up these notes does not mean you will and it also doesn't mean you will pick up totally different notes.  But if you don't think you'd like any of those flavors, move to the next wine.  You can also laugh (like I do!) at some of the descriptors.  I've found Kenya AA coffee, shiso leaf, briar, crème fraiche, Pastis, acacia blossom, maduro tobacco and quince paste to name a few.  I've also seen other funny references like loamy edge, cocoa tinged toast, broad-shouldered, providing undercarriage and smoldering finishes.  Sometimes the descriptors are almost as entertaining as the wine!

Also, if you're a beer guy, don't think that tasting notes are only for the wines.  One of my favorite sites, Beer Advocate, gives taste descriptors, beer reviews and tasting notes to almost any beer on the market.  Plus, many of the descriptors can sound just as hawty tawty as wine ones. 

So just be aware of the reviews, but the most important thing to do is to make your own- and enjoy!

Winter Preparation: Saving on Favorite Wines, Beers & Spirits

Winter is definitely upon us here in the Windy City and if you aren't ready, then it's time to strap on the snowshoes and head to the store.  This is the time of year when nobody likes to venture into the cold and stock up their house so you must be prepared.  Fortunately, I went on a South Loop spree last week and was ready for this snow session.  Here's a bit on my preparation:

In our neighborhood, we're lucky to have a bounty of large stores: Jewel/Osco, Dominick's, Whole Foods, Binny's, Target, Home Depot and Best Buy.  This makes shopping close, but a bit complicated- you have to check prices/sales against others.  First, we take a small inventory of what we need and what we want to prepare for meals in the upcoming week.  I wanted to have a diverse selection of animal protein main courses (easily substituted for vegetarians or vegans), so I wrote down pork loin chops, ground sirloin, beef for stew, chicken breasts, lamb loin chops, and wild salmon.  We also included our side dishes: beans & rice, cous cous, fresh vegetables and salad, and pasta.  Secondly, it's time to compare prices and sales.  Don't you just hate when you go to one store, buy cage-free eggs (for example) for $3.49, and then you see them for $2.50 at another?  Now that's only 99 cents, but when you fail to save money all the way down your list, this could mean you overspent by $20 or more! 

Next, I checked my stash of alcoholic beverages.  I still have some amaretto, vodka, gin, aged rum, and cognac.  I could use some tequila, but it's not necessary unless I see a bargain.  My wine cellar was stocked full of aging and special wines, but I was running low on sparkling, white and red RTD wines.  I was also in need of beer.  For this, I drove to Binny's South Loop to see what was on sale.  The beer was an easy choice- I really like both Sam Adams and Goose Island seasonal brews, and I found Goose Island Mild Winter 12 pack on sale for $12.99.  At just over $1/bottle, this is a steal for an ale that brings hearty, caramelly flavor and winter spice.  Next, I was on to wine.  I noticed Domaine Chandon selections were $15.99, but were on sale at Dominick's for $12.99, so I would wait on that and save $3.  I also decided to wait on my red wine until I got to Whole Foods because Maipe Malbec was on sale for $8.99- quite a deal for an old vine, critically acclaimed, very fruity red.  I decided to get only one bottle of white, and since I didn't see any specials, I picked up Feudi di San Gregorio Falanghina for $14.99.  A personal favorite from the Campania region in Italy which I like to keep stocked, this wine brings loads of tropical fruit along with medium body and minerality.   All in all, with so many great value choices, there's not many reasons for one to spend more than $15 for a good bottle of wine.

We do have some small entrepreneurial shops, but I would like to see more.  South Loop Wine Cellar, Warehouse Liquors and Printers Row Wine Shop are great wine shops with boutique selections and fun wine people.  Even if you have to pay an extra dollar here or there, try to support your neighborhood's small shops.  It helps build community and keeps the little guy in business- the American way!