'08 Saladini Pilastri Pregio del Cont'e

Saladini Pilastri is a winery in the Le Marche region of central Italy, just off the coast of the Adriatic. Their Pregio del Cont'e is a blend of Aglianico & Montepulciano grape varietals. It's a good value buy which I've seen available online for around $10.

It is deep and dark in color and fruit flavor, along with crushed mineral and hints of balsalmic. The acidity and tannins are definitely there, making it a good food wine (my wife made meatballs and the combo was great). The alcohol is a bit out of balance (13.5%) but overall a good value. Enjoy!

Vibrant Rioja at MK

This week I went to a tasting sponsored by The ENYE Group and Vibrant Rioja at MK Restaurant highlighting the wines of Rioja.  The space is excellent for tastings, built in an old warehouse with a skylight that sprays sunshine throughout the space during the daytime.  It also has a bi-level ground floor which segments the tasting rather well.  They also always offer great pairings for the wines that are presented.  For this tasting they had spanish cheeses, ham and sausages, marinated octopus, dried fruits and almonds.  The tasting was very good and gave me the idea to write this post.  Let's talk about: What is Rioja?

Simple enough, Rioja is a region in north central Spain and it is also a name used for the wines which come from that region.  It's a great spot for growing wine grapes because it sits on a plateau 1500 feet above sea level, has a moderate continental climate, is segmented by the Ebro river (providing hydration) and is protected from northern Spain's typical harsh winds by the Cantabrian Mountains. 

The wine region is also divided into three different subregions: Rioja Alta, Rioja Alavesa and Rioja Baja.  Rioja Alta lies to the west at the highest elevation, creating a shorter growing season.  It's dominated by clay soils and gives more secondary "Old World" aroma and flavor along with lighter body to the wines.  Rioja Alavesa brings you to Basque country with local law and traditions granting new bodegas (spanish wineries) just north of the river.  Soil is comprised of limestone and the grapes grown here have higher acidity and allow for fuller body.  Tempranillo is the main grape grown in the two regions.  Rioja Baja is to the east, sits at lower altitude and has a more Mediterranean warmer climate.  Other grape varietals like Garnacha, Mazuelo and  Graciano flourish here and are used to blend with Tempranillo from Alta and Alavesa.  In recent years they've allowed Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon to be planted here for blending as well.

Mostly red wines (85%) are made in the region, though rosé and whites are produced.  Red and rosé wine is comprised mostly of Tempranillo, 60% or more, and combined with the blending varietals from Rioja Baja.  White wine is made primarily from Viura (also known as Macabeo) blended with Malvasia and Garnacha Blanca.  The whites are made in two distinct styles, either light and fruity or barrel-fermented and full bodied. 

As far as aging is concerned, Rioja wines can be unoaked or aged in a barrel, along with being released immediately or after 5 or more years.  Age can be indicated on the label:

  1. Joven/Consecha: These wines are released immediately, unoaked and meant to be consumed within 2 years.  They are fresh, fruity and really express the vintage.

  2. Roble/Media Crianza: Aged 2-6 months in new oak.  Imparts alot of oak flavor and influence on the young wine.

  3. Crianza: The wine spends at least 1 year in oak and 1 year in the bottle before release.

  4. Reserva: These are specially selected wines aged at least 1 year in oak and 2 years in the bottle.

  5. Gran Reserva: These are made during special vintages only and aged at least 2 years in oak and 3 years in the bottle.

Many of these wines exhibit high acidity, ripe red fruit, earthiness and a decent amount of tannins, making them good food wines.  They pair well with charcuterie (sliced cured meats and sausages), goat and sheep milk cheeses, grilled fish and meats.

Do yourself a favor and get exotic, prep some tapas, drink Rioja and imagine yourself in Spain.  It's like a mini-vacation!

Chicago Tasting Monday: Australia to Bordeaux

This week started off with a bang.  Yesterday I was enjoying wine with football victories by the Indianapolis Colts and the New Orleans Saints- Who Dat?  Then Monday I was off to two wine tastings: Landmark Australia at Trump Tower and Bordeaux at The Drake.  Now, despite all the controversy, I have to admit that not only is Trump Tower in an awesome location, but is a gorgeous structure and has beautiful views of the city.  The perfect spot for a wine tasting, where I was joyed to find 25 glasses of wine in front of me- six Chardonnays, six Cabernet Sauvignons and ten blind wines (those sneaky Aussies!). 

The wines were a great illustration of what Australia can do when they're not trying to conform to the American popular palate- big, fat, juicy, high alcohol, heavy oak.  The Chardonnays had bright acidity, minerality, balance (highest ABV was 13%) and youth.  Some of the highlights included Vasse Felix Heytesbury, Bindi Winegrowers Quartz and Leeuwin Art Series, which is one of the best Chardonnays in the world.  The Cabernet Sauvignons had extra varietal blending with Shiraz, Merlot, Malbec and Cabernet Franc lending extra spice, softness and floral notes to the earth, pencil lead and youthful tannins.  My favorites were Penfolds Bin 707, Yalumba "The Signature" and Henschke "Cyril Henschke".  Then came the ten blind tastings, which I was fortunately able to pick six correct, even with my rusty senses due to new dad hibernation!  Overall it was a very good tasting followed by a decent buffet with crabcakes, chicken florentine and mixed greens.  We were also treated to a few extra wines like Kangarilla Road Shiraz and Mitolo Jester Shiraz- excellent.

Next, after a brief stop to get some espresso, I was off to The Drake to indulge in a Bordeaux tasting.  The ballroom was packed with Bordelaise wines and winemakers, along with just about everyone involved in the wine trade: distributors, importers, restauranteurs, chefs, sommeliers, etc.  They also had wines from just about every part of the region: Cabernet Sauvignon based blends from the Left Bank, Merlot and Cabernet Franc based reds from the Right Bank, Sauvignon Blanc based whites from Graves and Pessac-Léognan, and sweet Barsac and Sauternes.  The 2007 vintage was being featured, which I consider a good vintage, in most cases, to drink early.  The tannins are not too tight and the fruit is coming through.  I liked Chateau Figeac, Chateau Pape Clement Blanc and Rouge, Chateau Grand-Puy Ducasse and Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande.  These wines exhibited great balance and structure, along with some aging potential from acidity, tannins and fruit flavor still waiting to break from the heavy earth notes.

I want to thank Landmark Australia, The Trump, Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux and The Drake for hosting myself and the Chicago wine community.  Looking forward to more tastings in the future!

Sopranos & St. Supery at Binny's South Loop

Little did I know that when I signed up for a tasting of St. Supery wines at Binny's south loop, that I would run into the Sopranos.  The place was, excuse the pun, a mob scene!  When I first entered, I practically ran into Tony Sirico (Paulie Walnuts) and Steven Schirripa (Bobby Baccalieri), who were there to sign bottles of Sopranos wines.  There was a line that travelled all the way to the back of the store!  People were just waiting for a chance to meet the Italian duo, and get an autograph on their Sopranos wine.  I decided to grab some pictures and look for some St. Supery.

I found Rick Bakas and Steve Orozco of St. Supery in the middle of the store pouring five different wines.  I started with their 2008 Sauvignon Blanc (which made my Best Buys list) ($14.99) and is refreshing, full of lime burst, grapefruit, and pineapple.  I moved to their 2008 Virtu ($23.99), which is a blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon.  This is a bit richer, with creamier notes, stone fruit, and more body.  Then it was a Cabernet Sauvignon comparison between their vineyard blend ($29.99) and the 2005 Dollarhide estate ($69.99).  The blend had more toasted coconut along with lush fruity flavor and supple tannins, while the Dollarhide was more intense and concentrated, with grippy tannins, and smooth oak flavor.  The blend was a pleaser while the Dollarhide could age to become a more mature and strong Cabernet.  I finished with their 2008 Moscato ($18.99), which was sweet and floral, with peach fruit flavor, but devoid of any sparkle- I like mine with some fizz.  I really like the St. Supery wines since I was introduced to them at the Wine Blogger Conference 2009, and I think you will too.

As far as the Sopranos wines go, they are made in association with HBO, and are a lineup of Italian varietals.  They make a Pinot Grigio and Pinot Noir from Pavia, and three different Chianti: a DOCG madeup of 90% Sangiovese and 10% Merlot, a traditional Classico, and Riserva.  I haven't tried them, so I cannot render any feedback, but I look forward to it.  I know enough people went home with the wines that there should be some reviews out there!

I guess this proves that in Chicago, you never know who you'll run into!

Heritage Wine Cellars Gala 2009

Today I attended one of the Midwest's largest yearly wine events, the Heritage Wine Cellars Gala.  Heritage is an extremely large importer and distributor of wines- there were almost 200 producers present.  They put on quite a show at the Chicago Ritz-Carlton in the Grand Ballroom.  So much wine to taste, wine sales reps and producers willing to pour and give out info, gourmet food, espresso, and bottled water everywhere!  Now you may ask yourself, with so many wines, what do you do, and where do you start?

As one who is involved with wine buying, I start before I even go.  I look at my wine bottle and glass pour list, and write down what I am missing and in need of.  Then, I will go to the event and, with the price sheet, will set a fast priority on items I would like to see on the list.  After that business is done, it's time for pleasure!  I then seek out items I have wanted to try, even if I have no intention of purchasing them in the near future.  This also aids in tuning my palate, and adding to my memory of varietals and wines I have tried.

Now, some of the wines I loved.  My favorite was the 2006 Tenuta dell'Ornellaia Le Serre Nuove.  It is a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Petit Verdot.  The vintage turned out excellent and, though it could use more aging, is so complex and full of flavor.  There is rich red and dark fruit, tobacco, leather, and spice.  I also really loved the 2006 Mitolo GAM Shiraz.  It is a huge Aussie Shiraz, with sweet ripe cherry, licorice, smokiness and spice.  Other big hits were the Terra Valentine single vineyard Cabernet Sauvignons, Marchesi di Gresy Nebbiolo delle Langhe and Barbarescos, Tenuta Sant'Antonio Valpolicella and Amarone, 2006 Klinker Brick Old Ghost Zinfandel, 2005 M by Michael Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon, Domaine Serene Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, and Au Bon Climat 2004 Hidegard white blend.

Overall, a great time, and an event not to be missed.  If you can get your hands on any of those wines, try them out, and let me know what you think!

2005 Bodegas Viña Magaña Merlot

wine_1661516_detail1While at a Cream Wine Co. tasting, I had the chance to retaste one of my favorite wines, the 2005 vintage Merlot by Bodegas Viña Magaña.  The vineyards and winery are family owned, run by the father-son duo of Juan and Diego Magaña.  It is located in Navarra, Spain, just south of Pamplona.  For this particular wine, they took merlot vine cuttings from Château Pétrus, in Pomerol, and planted them on the estate in gravel and limestone soil.  The wine was aged in new French barrels for 18 months, and in the bottle for another six months before release.  The wine is bright ruby red with smells of both mineral and floral components, accompanied by rich exotic spice.  It is full bodied on the mouth with rich, plump, dark fruits, tar, and oak spice nuances, lasting on and on to full length finish.  I believe this wine has great aging potential, with its crisp acidity and fine tannins.  It should retail at the stores for about $40-50.  (WG 95pts.)

Chimney Rock Romance

Valentine's Day was upon us and my wife and I were ready to relax with some good food, wine, and eachother.  We've img_0995never habitually celebrated Valentine's Day, due to the fact we treat our relationship special all year round, but felt like enjoying a romantic evening at home.  Thanks to my friend Lara from Terlato Wines, we were about to enjoy a bottle of 2004 Chimney Rock "Elevage".  Chimney Rock was created by the Wilson family over thirty years ago to create Bordeaux style wines in California.  Elevage is their proprietary blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Petit Verdot.  I opened and tasted it while the food was on the stove.  It has a dark ruby color and aromas of both red and dark berries, along with spiced plums.  Oak spices aplenty are present: cappucino, nutmeg, and cocoa.  The wine is fruity and full on the palate, with soft tannins.  I would have liked a longer finish, however, and expected more grip with the varietal make up.  It went well with dinner, but even better with dessert- organic dark chocolate chip cookies.  (WG 88pts.)

WCWG Lynfred Winery Tour and Tasting

img_0974It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon, a great day for a trip to Lynfred Winery in Roselle, Illinois.  Thanks to a generous donation by Lynfred 2008 Grape Spitting Champion, Mike Miley, we were about to enjoy a free wine tasting at the oldest, continuously run, bonded winery in the state.  Our trip out was an easy one, as we took the Metra train at Union Station to Roselle, a 47 minute ride.  We were met by a big yellow school bus and were off to the winery!

Lynfred resembles many of the other Roselle homes from the front, with its large front porch and welcome appearance.  But when you walk around the side, you see just how large it really is.  It has become not just a winery, but also a Bed & Breakfast, and a bakery, making fine artisanal breads daily.  The building is gorgeous with balconies, outdoor seating, and grey stone walls covered in ivy.  It was started in 1979 by Fred and Lynn Koehler (whom it was named after).  What started as a retirement hobby became a success.

We walked inside and were greeted by a bustling tasting room, full of cheer and shopping.  Over fifty different wines are available for tasting and purchase, anything from Illinois Chardonel (a cross of Chardonnay and Seyval Blanc), to fruit wines (Peach, Apricot, Cherry, Strawberry), sparkling wines and ports, and award winning Cabernet Sauvignon.  img_0987Much of the fruit used to make the wines comes from out of state, from California to Michigan.  Our tasting began with the 2005 Viognier, which is full and applely, with a touch of spice.  We then moved to the cellar tasting room, and were surrounded by barrels of aging wines.  We ran through a tasting of nine wines total: 2006 Chenin Blanc, 2006 Unoaked Chardonnay, Sweetheart White and Red Table Wines, 2006 Barbera (my favorite), 2005 Merlot, Blackberry Wine, and a Strawberry Port.  I could tell each one of their wines was treated as something special, as they all distributed great character, and lasting good finishes.  I don't normally get involved with wines made from fruit other than grapes, but I was very impressed as each gave more than I expected.  It was apparent the winemaker, Andrés Basso, took great care with each of his products. 

We were later taken through the winery by our tour guide, Matt.  He explained the winemaking process from grape to bottle, and was very knowledgeable of each Lynfred product.  The facility was immaculate.  The meticulous nature of the wine is a part of every aspect of Lynfred, from the cellar, to the detail of the design and architecture, to the soft and delicious baked bread.  It was an unforgettable experience and I look forward to more visits in the future.

img_0990After the tour, we headed over to Pilot Pete's.  It is located right next to Schaumberg Regional Airport.  We were able to see helicopters and Cesnas take off and land just outside the window, while we enjoyed lobster nachos, calamari, and the house blend red wine, created by Lynfred.

The event was a success and I want to thank Lynfred Winery (especially Matt), Mike Miley, Barb img_0981the bus driver, Pilot Pete's, and all in attendance.  I hope to have more events just as fun in the future!

Chateauneuf du Pape and Alternatives

Many of us enjoy Chateauneuf du Pape along with other Rhone wines.  Unfortunately, many of these wines can be expensive.   There are ways, however, to enjoy wines similar to your favorites without the big price tag.

For those of us who are not familar with Chateauneuf du Pape (CDP), it is an area in the southern Rhone Valley, France, which lies between Orange and Avignon.  Pope Clement V moved the papacy here in 1308, and his love of wine helped improve viticulture in the area.  The grapes and wines improved over time to become a world renowned product.  It is made in both white and red styles with Grenache being the primary grape, though up to 13 varietals can be used in the blend.

Since CDPs can go from $30-200+, it can be difficult to drink as much as one may like.  That is where the alternatives come in.  Look for Gigondas, Vacqueyras, Rasteau, and Lirac wines.  These are all towns in close proximity to CDP which produce similar wines though Lirac produces lighter styles.  The pictured wine is Domaine de la Maurelle Gigondas 2004 which I purchased on special at Binny's for $15.  It had very good cherry, leather, earth, and was easy drinking.

You can also look for Côtes du Rhône, and Côtes-du-Rhône-Villages for better quality.  My favorite for under $15 is Guigal Cotes du Rhone.  Good hunting!

Terredora di Paolo Aglianico 2006

A southern Italian wine made by Campania's largest wine producer and vineyard owner.  Terredora takes pride in reintroducing the world to local ancient varietals, all of which were the best of the Roman Empire.  Aglianico is the best red varietal that the south of Italy has to offer.  Priced at $11.99 from Caffe Roma in San Francisco, this wine produced.  There was deep dark color, leading into a dark red fruit which was complimented by spice and toasted tones.  The wine was tight and benefitted from time outside the bottle (WG 88pts.).  Was great with our spinach and homemade meatball pizza from Pizzelle di North Beach, San Francisco.