Columbia Crest Wines at Urban Union

What's this? Another wine dinner, at another restaurant, with another winemaker and another winery- but not so fast!  Last Tuesday I dined with Juan Munoz Oca (check out the interview with Corey Nuffer of of Columbia Crest Winery, Washington state's largest producer of everyday affordable wines and handcrafted small-lot wines.  They may produce a lot of wines, but there's definitely a lot of care that goes into it- only having three winemakers since they first opened over 25 years ago means they have a great thing going!  I've tasted many of their wines in the past but I was really looking forward to seeing them work with chef Michael Shrader's Urban Union wood burning oven/small plate cuisine.  Here's the pairings: 

  • 2010 Columbia Crest Grand Estates Columbia Valley Chardonnay ($12) with Oysters "Casino" style.  The wine is fermented and aged in 1-3 year old American and French oak barrels and hand-stirred (battonage) every week for six months to allow the lees (expired yeast) to mix complexity into the wine.  Over 20% of the wine is fermented in stainless steel and mixed in to exude natural varietal character.  The wine is very nice for the pricetag, creamy with ripe pear and caramel apple flavor.  Being topped with creamy parmesan and salty pancetta, the oysters matched well with the wine's weight and texture and allowed the fresh fruit to come through on the aftertaste.
  • 2010 Horse Heaven Hills 'Les Chevaux' Red ($15) with BBQ Pulled Pork Shoulder.  Produced in a region with excellent sun exposure, well draining soil and arid conditions allows the grapes to gain full ripeness and maturity.  The blend of velvety Merlot (80%), strong & tannic Cabernet Sauvignon (13%) and peppery Syrah (7%) worked great with the rich pork and lightly chile spiced sauce.  The spices mingled in the mouth while the dark fruit lasted.
  • 2010 Horse Heaven Hills Cabernet Sauvignon ($15) with Flank Steak au Poivre.  Another well made red with new world earthiness, smokey meatiness, plum, red peppercorn and mocha flavors.  This all obviously worked well with grilled steak topped with rich peppery sauce that was accompanied by a deliciously sweet roasted shallot.  Great combo.
  • 2010 Columbia Crest Grand Estates Columbia Valley Moscato ($12) with S'mores and Cheescake.  A very nice American Moscato with more tropical flavor, light effervescence and a hint of exotic spice.  The dark chocolate of the s'mores clashed with this a bit, but it held well with the full cheesecake.  A nice dessert wine, especially in 750ml size.

If I were you I'd make my way to Urban Union for some small dishes soon and be sure to stock up on Columbia Crest wine on your next trip to the wine shop- there's no shortage, but have it onhand as your everyday wine!

Wine Riot Weekend


Wine Riot is here- the casual way to enjoy wine, learn about different wine regions and talk to wine experts.  All you have to do is join in the fun and come to the Great Hall at Union Station for one of three tastings: Opening Night Friday, June 1 ($60) from 7-11pm, Saturday June 2 ($50) from 1-5pm or 7-11pm.  Pick which time suits you but don't miss this amazing tasting.  There'll be munchies for $5 a pop (Robinson's No. 1 Ribs, Cabot Cheese, The Tamale Spaceship, Taza Chocolate), a DJ, photo booth and 250 wines from 95 wineries (Trimbach, Peachy Canyon, Domane Wachau, Caldora, etc.).  See you there!

Nueva Buena Vista by Jean-Charles Boisset

Jean-Charles BoissetRecently I had the pleasure of having lunch with Jean-Charles Boisset, President of Boisset Family Estates, at Carmichael's to discuss his future plans for recent purchase Buena Vista Winery.  Jean-Charles (JC) has been involved with wine his entire life and practically grew up in the vineyards.  The Boisset family is well known as winemakers and exporters, and owned property in Burgundy, the Rhone Valley and southern France before visiting California.  JC and his family really took to the west coast and loved the winemaking potential and history.  This lead to JC rooting himself and his family there and purchasing famous wineries & vineyards such as Raymond, DeLoach, Lyeth, and as of April 2011, Buena Vista.

When JC looks to purchase a winery it must meet certain criteria: able to create excellent wine and have rich history.  Buena Vista was the perfect fit as it is probably California's most historic winery.  It was started in 1856 by Hungarian immigrant Count Agoston Harazthy.  The Count was a pioneer and innovator- he started California's first commercial winery (Buena Vista), built the first wine caves, introduced over 300 grape varietals, created the first Traditional Method sparkling wines and introduced California wines to Europe, winning gold medals and accreditation.  Now the tradition can live on as JC carries the torch and makes Buena Vista fully organic (as he does with all of his wineries) and has changed to Gravity-Flow, one of the first in the area.

At our lunch I was able to taste a few wines which will be available at very reasonable prices (most at $20 or less) which makes them extreme value selections.  There will be four different lines:

  1. Sonoma.  A new vintage-style label is made to both impress and deliver with varietals Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc and Zinfandel.  I tasted the 2011 Chardonnay which carries a lighter weight, supple fruit and both butter and slight oak, and the 2010 Zinfandel which is an amazing bargain with dark jammy fruit, spice, toastiness and a puff of smoke.  I was also impressed by the 2008 "The Count" Founder's Red Wine, a blend (which I had to guess!) of Zinfandel, Syrah and Merlot.  I love blends and this one hits on all points: great fruit, a variety of secondary flavor like mocha and spices, and a lengthy finish.
  2. Carneros.  I love this region for the complex thin skinned fruit it can produce with the cool ocean breeze, and Chardonnay, Merlot and Pinot Noir are part of the line.  I tasted the 2009 Pinot Noir which has an elegant earthiness combined with tasty fruit.  Looking forward to the other varietals.
  3. Private Reserve.  This house label has been revived and involves fruit sourced from Sonoma's best vineyards.  A lineup of Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Zinfandel will be the best there is to offer.
  4. Vinicultural Society.  Small production wines to honor the ancient society begun by the Count in 1863.  Currently they boast wines named after Agoston's children.  Arpad's is a select Zinfandel, Otelia's is a select Pinot Noir and a vintage Sparkling Brut is also available.  ($32-45)

I definitely enjoyed tasting these wines and really like JC's jovial personality and style.  I think it translates to his personal life, business, decisions and relationships.  This French legend is already an American pioneer and star in the making.  I look forward to seeing his future ventures and tasting the wines!


Wines of Veneto

I recently attended a wine dinner at 437 Rush where Wines of Veneto were highlighted.  Most of us hear Veneto and start thinking of waterways, carnivals and gondolas.  All of those are what the city of Venice (Venezia), located in the Veneto region, is famous for.  The Veneto, on the other hand, is known for its art, cheese, salumi and wine.  The region is a very important wine growing area, making the most DOC (regulated quality level) wine in Italy.  Here's some wines you may have heard of:

  • Prosecco.  This wine is made sparkling from the Glera grape varietal and is named after the town of Prosecco.  Normally made dry, light and crisp. 
  • Soave.  Made from the Garganega varietal around the comune of Soave, this wine can exhibit lemon, spice and nuttiness.
  • Valpolicella.  A wine made in the growing region which shares its name out of three local varietals: Corvina, Rondinella, Molinara.  Normally made light weight and exhibits sour cherry flavor.
  • Amarone.  A powerful wine grown in Valpolicella, it is mainly comprised of the Corvina varietal.  Mocha, chocolate and earthy tones are present in this rich wine.

There are also some very good wines which most have not heard of like Lison which is made from the Tocai Italico varietal, Lugana which is a light white wine made from Trebbiano, and Friularo Bagnoli, made from the Friularo varietal in Bagnoli, makes red wines with full body and tannins along with cherry flavor and floral aroma.  There is a lot to love about these wines as they can stand on their own, be enjoyed in all seasons, and go well with food, especially Venetian cuisine.  They vary in price from affordable to expensive and can be found in wine shops and on wine lists throughout the city.  If you get the chance, travel to this region, and if not, know that you can experience it in your own home!

Big thanks to 437 Rush, Wines of Veneto and their sommelier, Aurora Endrici, who gave an excellent presentation on the wines.  Buona fortuna!

Beaujolais Nouveau 2010 Release

Upcoming this week is the release of the 2010 vintage of Beaujolais Nouveau.  It's the first wine released yearly from the Northern Hemisphere grape harvest.  The wine is always released on the 3rd Thursday of November at 12:01 am Central European Time (CET) which means it's available for Thursday parties and events! 

The wine is made from the Gamay varietal in the southern portion of Burgundy.  It is meant to be drunk young while it's fresh, lively and fruity, so they employ a rapid means of fermentation called carbonic maceration, which also eases the normally acidic nature of the grape.  I recently received a sample of 2010 Georges DuBoeuf Beaujolais Nouveau and was eager to taste and share the notes with you.  The wine is full of strawberry and ripe cherry along with cinnamon hints, a touch of minerality, smooth tannins and high acidity.  It's very light and not lengthy on the finish, but a good wine to share with friends and even try with your Thanksgiving turkey.  (84 WG)

If you're planning on going out to celebrate the release, here's a few local spots to try:

  • Vertigo Sky Lounge.  Hosting a "midnight" release party on Wednesday 10pm-1:30am to unveil 2010 Georges Duboeuf.  Reservations are required.
  • Whole Foods-Lincoln Park.  Join them for free samples in the wine department.  12pm-9pm.
  • Union League Club.  $50 in advance will get you: tastes of Beaujolais Nouveau and more French wine, food & spirits, souvenir photos, chance to win a trip for 2 to Paris, and a 2010 commemorative wine glass.  6pm-9pm.
  • Chicago French Market.  Come in for free samples of Beaujolais Nouveau.  4pm-7pm.
  • Bistrot Zinc.  Join them for a three-course meal and a glass of Beaujolais Nouveau for $29.95.  Reservations recommended.
  • Bistrot 110.  A $25 tasting of Beaujolais wine and seasonal samples.  6-8:30pm.  Reservations recommended.

Whether you are go out or stay in, I hope you enjoy some Beaujolais Nouveau friends and family!

St. Supery Sauvignon Blanc and Unoaked Chardonnay

St. Supery Estate, RutherfordI recently received samples of a couple of white wines from St. Supery to review and was ready to pop the tops and get to sipping.  I visited St. Supery in RutherfordNapa Valley in 2009 and really enjoyed it.  They have a gorgeous estate situated just off St. Helena Highway, and I enjoyed a relaxing afternoon lunch outdoors while taking in the scenery. 

The estate was purchased in the 1980s by Robert Skalli, whose family has made wine in France for several generations.  They now own over 1500 acres of Napa vineyards and produce some world class California wines.  Here are the two that I sampled:

2009 St. Supery Oak Free Chardonnay ($22).  This wine is made up of mostly Chardonnay, with 1% Sauvignon Blanc added.  It has very good tropical and grannie smith apple aroma and flavor, plus decent acidity.  There is a small detection of both minerality and spice, most like white pepper.  The flavor is a bit dull on the finish and does not last long.  A decent wine, though I can find better Chardonnay for the price.  (82 WG).

2009 St. Supery Sauvignon Blanc ($23).  I've always loved St. Supery Sauvignon Blanc, especially from Dollarhide Vineyard, and this one does not disappoint.  They've always resembled New Zealand with zesty grapefruit and no oak treatment, and that's definitely my style.  This one exhibits bright lime, kiwi, loads of grapefruit, excellent acidity, and a touch of caper berry to finish off the greenness of the wine.  Awesome with seafood dishes or sushi.  Highly recommended.  (91 WG).

I hope to try more St. Supery wines and let you know what I think.  They not only make some very good white wines, but the reds are just as good if not better.  If you make the trip to Napa, be sure to stop in, and tell 'em the Windy City Wine Guy told ya!

Italian Festival at Daley Plaza

In honor of Chicago's rich Italian American heritage, the Joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans (JCCIA) is hosting Fiera Italiana from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., October 5 - 9 at Daley Plaza (50 W. Washington Ave.). This outdoor festival-style event brings food, drink, performing arts, entertainment, fashion and more in celebration of the culture of Italy. The festivities will be the kick off to the tradition that is the annual Columbus Day Parade on October 12.  This outdoor festival-style event brings food, drink, performing arts, entertainment, fashion and more in celebration of the culture of Italy. The festivities will be the kick off to the tradition that is the annual Columbus Day Parade on October 12.

On Thursday, October 7, yours truly will be hosting an Italian wine tasting in Daley Plaza.  We'll travel through Italy's rich history of wine along with many of their great indigenous varietals.  The tasting will be free to all participants and will begin at 1pm.  Hope to see you there!

Georges DuBoeuf 2009 Vintage Beaujolais Lunch at Blackbird

The amazing 2009 vintage of Beaujolais wines are about to hit Chicagoland and I was fortunate enough to taste them at a Blackbird Restaurant wine luncheon.  For this event, Chef Paul Kahan would be pairing dishes with '09 Georges DuBoeuf selections: Beajolais-Villages, Morgon, Fleurie, Julienas and Moulin-a-Vent.

Beaujolais wines come from southern Burgundy, just north of Lyon.  They're made from the Gamay varietal which is known for it's thin skin, low tannins, high acidity and loads of fruit flavor.  Be sure to watch for my upcoming post about the different growing regions and production.

We started with the '09 DuBoeuf Beajolais-Villages ($10), made from grapes grown in the northern half of Beajolais.  The higher tannins in this wine is the highlight of the vintage and was quite surprising- it makes an interesting combination of not just being extremely drinkable, but also great with food.  It's total harmony of ripe acidity, full fruit, fresh herbs and the 2009 vintage tannins.  Here's a bit more about the vintage from winemaker Emeric Gaucher:

Emeric and I also talked about what some of his favorite wines are and he really loves Syrah/Shiraz, especially from Côte-Rôtie and Barossa.  He gets chances to visit many vineyards throughout the world and is really looking forward to an Australian trip.

CharcuterieAs far as the lunch went, everything went well with the wines due to both the '09Pork Loin & Belly vintage character and Chef Khan's vision.  We started out with Duck Sausage and Mortadella with Almond Yogurt, Fennel and Smoked Almonds and continued on to Grilled Pork Loin and Pork Belly with Royal Trumpet Mushrooms, Melted Leeks, Pickled Tumeric and Chorizo Broth.  The fruity nature of the wines along with their minerality, acidity and tannins complemented the richness and saltiness of the pork.  The earth and licorice of the mushrooms, leeks and fennel matched well with the Cru Beaujolais, especially Moulin-a-Vent. 

Each wine exhibited the unique character of their growing region's soil through their aroma and flavor profile.  The Beaujolais-Villages had the most jammy fruit, while each Cru wine was typical but with the added strength and tannin of the vintage.  We also tried a couple of special wines from DuBoeuf: the Fleurie Domaine des Quatre Vents ($16), which was an extremely pretty wine full of cherry and violet, and the Moulin-a-Vent Domaine de la Tour du Bief ($18), which was strong with black fruits, spice and licorice. 

I not only recommend purchasing Beaujolais-Villages and Cru wines for their tremendous value and versatility, but also the 2009 vintage for it's amazing quality, tannin and power.  Make sure to take advantage of the value these wines bring and let me know how you liked them!

Bastille Day Wine Tasting at Christofle

Make sure to come out this coming Wednesday evening to celebrate Bastille Day at Pavillon Christofle with yours truly, the Windy City Wine Guy!  Below is your invite:


 See you there!

Wine in Woodinville and Chateau Ste. Michelle


Before our WBC or Bust group was to set off east from Seattle to Walla Walla, we had a chance to break in the bus on a short trip to Woodinville, a former suburb of Seattle.  There are over 50 wineries in Woodinville and we were on our way to its most famous, Chateau Ste. Michelle, which has been around since the repeal of prohibition, when it was known as Pommerelle Wine Company.  Now it is nothing short of ginormous, with a large number of lines: Columbia Valley wines which bring out regional and varietal character, Indian Wells brings out new world nuances, Single Vineyard, Ethos Reserve with old world style, Artist series Meritage blend, Domaine Ste. Michelle sparkling wines, Eroica Riesling collaboration with German winemaker Ernst Loosen, Limited Release wines for club members and Col Solare, a red wine collaboration with Tuscan winemaker Marchese Piero Antinori.


We embarked on a tour of the winery led by Lynda Eller (Director of Communications) and winemaker Wendy Stuckey.  We went through the winery's long history and partnerships, and saw their large fermentation tanks and multiple storage barrels.  Later, we were treated to a wine tasting and food pairing conducted by John Sarich, winery Culinary Director.  We tasted four different Rieslings: 2007 & 2008 Eroica ($24), 2009 Columbia Valley Riesling ($9) and 2009 Cold Creek Vineyard Riesling ($15), Spiced Dishes & Rieslingpaired with three spicy samples: Indian Spiced Prawns & Tomato Chutney, Sesame Seared Halibut with Orange-Basil Thai Curry, and Currywurst.  I always love comparing different vineyards and vintages against eachother, as this is the best way to catch subtle and interesting differences.  Also, Rieslings pair very well with both exotic and inflamingDuck & Red Wine spice because of the grape's high acidity, citrus fruit profile and varying degree of sweetness.  We were then offered up Roasted Duck with Cherry Merlot Sauce, Sweet Potato Cake and Manchego Cheese paired with three reds: 2007 Canoe Ridge Estate Merlot ($22), 2006 Cold Creek Vineyard Merlot ($28) and 2006 Artist Series Meritage ($50), a blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec and Petit Verdot.  Merlot and Meritage wines are a great pairing for rich duck dishes while Manchego, a rich sheep milk cheese, blends greatly with Merlot's silky tannins.  We finished off with 2005 Ethos Late Harvest Riesling ($35) with a lemon cookie and berries.  This fantastic dessert wine meshed well with the citrusy, butter cookie flavor.


Northwest Totem WinesAfterward, we met a slew of Woodinville winemakers at Willows Lodge: Northwest Totem Cellars, BetzBetz Family Family Winery, DeLille Cellars, DiStefano Winery, William Church Winery, Hollywood Hill Vineyards, Brian Carter Cellars, Novelty Hill/Januik Winery, Sparkman Cellars, Cuillin Hills Winery, Baer Winery, Des Voigne Cellars and Barrage Cellars.  There I met Bob Betz and his daughter Carmen, and tasted the best wine of the entire trip, 2008 Betz Family La Côte Patriarche Syrah ($55) from Red Willow Vineyard in Yakima.  An inky, black/dark purple color, with deeply spicey, floral, smokey aromas and deep dark fruit, black pepper and a touch of dried, cured meat on what seemed to be an endless palate.  This wine was so complex and lasting that I couldn't stop thinking about it!  I tasted so many good wines that it's hard to mention them all, but Hollywood Hill Vineyard Malbec, DeLille Cellars Grand Ciel and Northwest Totem Cellars Cabernet Franc were a few standouts.


The Barking FrogIt was a small walk to the other side of the lodge to The Barking Frog, where we were in for a killer lunch prepared by Chef Bobby Moore paired with more DeLille Cellars wines.  It kicked off with Grand Marnier Prawns and led to Seared Sea Scallops.  We finished with Dark Chocolate Coffee Ganache.  I would have been happy to call it a day after that perfect lunch on their outdoor patio, but we were in for more tastings and fun back in Seattle.  More on that in the next post!

Reynoso Family Vineyards Wine Review

I recently received free wines to sample from Reynoso Family Vineyards and was not just happy with the flavor, but their story as well.  They come from an Alexander Valley winery with a Chicago twist.  The owners, Joe and Elena Reynoso, were career Chicagoans.  Joe was a trader and wine collector, while Elena was

in fine wine sales.  Their passion for wine led them to California when a 550 acre parcel in Alexander Valley came available in 1994.  After some hard work and planting, they were ready to make wine and began in 2001 and have been making it ever since.  Now let's get to some of the wines I tried:

  • Sauvignon Blanc.  This is a crisp, clean straw colored wine.  It is very intense on the nose with big citrus, floral aromas and light peppery spice.  The mouth has tasty pink grapefruit and bright acidity.  A nice natural wine.  Available for around $12.  (WG 86pts.)

  • Long Gamma White.  This is a new wine from the Reynoso Family and it turned out to be my favorite.  A smooth blend of 60% Sauvignon Blanc, 25% Viognier and 15% Gewurztraminer and full of aroma and flavor.  This is a fruit bomb- grapefruit, peach and apricot with smells of rose petals and ginger.  The perfect summer wine!  Available for around $12.  (WG 90pts.)

  • Syrah.  A bold, full bodied red with great expressions true to the varietal.  Dark plum, black pepper and a touch of ye ole barnyard.  A medium length but it a was bit hot with alcohol burn on the finish.  A good food wine.  Available for around $18.  (WG 85pts.)

  • Cabernet Sauvignon.  The wine is also deep ruby red and full bodied.  It has focused fruits with dark berries and cherries along with toasty oak.  The tannins are medium and it does have good acidity.  A smoother Cabernet with a lengthy finish, but again there was some alcohol burn on the finish.  Available for around $24.  (WG 85pts.)

I really love their white wines.  They are full of fruit, have crisp acidity and great finishes.  The reds need a little work as they are slightly out of balance with the alcohol, but good wines.  I see alot of potential with this producer.

You can pick these wines up all over Chicago: Wine Discount Center, The Artisan Cellar, Whole Foods, Lush Wine & Spirits, Armanetti's, Ben'z Wine & Spirits, The Poison Cup, Galleria Liqueurs, and at these restaurants: Keefer's, Kamehachi (I'd love the Long Gamma with sushi!) and Stained Glass in Evanston.

Hope you enjoy these wines- I did!

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!

Napa Valley Vintners invade Chicago!

Napa Valley Vintners AssociationThe Napa Valley Vintners Association was in Chicago on Wednesday, September 16, ready to bring a full array of Napa Valley wine to our taste buds.  I was invited to an intimate luncheon held at Bloomingdale's, and then a walk across the street to Fleming's, where over 80 wineries were pouring some excellent Napa juice.

There was alot going on in the Bloomingdale's demo kitchen.  Fleming's chefs were onhandChef at Bloomingdale's Demo Kitchen to make us a fabulous lunch, members of the press were ready to taste some great food and wine, and some of Napa Valley's best wineries were pouring premium selections.  I started off by talking to Hugh Davies of Schramsberg.  He and his family helped turn a rundown winery into the finest producer of sparkling wine in the US.  He was pouring his 1999 vintage Brut sparkling wine out of a magnum, which was aged eight years "sur lie" before bottling.  It had bright acidity, a myriad of fruit flavor, and a touch of creaminess.  A great way to start out a tasting.

We were then directed to our seats, where I was fortunate to sit next to Lisa Broman Augustine of Broman Cellars, and Diana Schweiger of Schweiger Vineyards.  We shared innovative insights to wine and Napa, and tasted some great wines.  Three different Sauvignon Blancs were being passed around:

  1. Broman Cellars.  This was my favorite, as the round ripe fruit, especially melons, filled my palate, while the flavor endured with a slightly creamy finish.

  2. Honig Vineyard and Winery.  The wine was pleasant and bright, but a bit hot, and had some oakiness to it.  I am not a big fan of oak with this varietal, though it is used alot in California Sauvignon Blanc.

  3. Cakebread Cellars.  This had mineral, citrus, and a touch of vanilla, but did not last on the tongue.

We also tasted Cakebread Chardonnay, which was a rich, buttery, extremely oaky version.  Next it was time for some food and red wine.

Mini Wellington and WineWe kicked off the red wine with David Graves introducing us to Saintsbury Pinot Noir.  We were also served a mini beef wellington, which was small and delicious.  It went well with the large collection of Cabernet Sauvignon we were tasting.  Cakebread, Oakville Ranch, Honig, and Broman Cabs were big, round, and great.  Schweiger Dedication, a blend consisting of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot,Fleming's Filet Burger Malbec, and Cabernet Franc, is an extremely complex wine with big fruit flavor. 

Our burgers came just in time, as tasting all these wines can take a toll.  They were prepared with an au poivre sauce, served with au gratin potatoes.  I was delighted to finish off the tasting with my favorite wine of the day, the 1997 Signorello "Padrone", a blend of 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 18% Merlot, and 7% Cabernet Franc.  It was so elegant, but yet strong- this wine could easily last another 10 years.  This ended the luncheon, and it was time to go to Fleming's and taste more wine!

As soon as I walked in, I was surrounded by wine, producers, consumers, and total atmosphere.  That place was rockin'!  I sampled many wines: Gemstone, Lail, Grgich Hills (I always have to sample their wine!), Celani (thanks for the laughs Gary!), and Baldacci (an awesome, affordable, small production wine from Stag's Leap) were some of my favorites.

It is hard to deny that Napa Valley holds some of the world's greatest wines.  They are always a pleasure to taste, great with food, and not hard to find.  Go out and grab yourself a few bottles and let me know what you think!

Chicago Gourmet Food Festival 2009

Chicago GourmetChicago Gourmet is on the way- a food and wine festival taking place on September 26 & 27 in Millenium Park.  This is just its second annual occurrence, and it will be a celebration of our city's culinary culture and history, highlighted by Chicago's best chefs and restaurants.  Also, hundreds of wines, local sommeliers, and wine experts will be onhand for tastings and seminars.

Many Chicago personalities like Mayor Daley will be in attendance, along with Chicago's favorite chefs: Rick Bayless (winner of Top Chef Masters) of Frontera Grill, Jose Garces of Mercat a la Planxa, John Coletta of Quartino, Dirk Flanigan of The Gage, Marcus Samuelsson of C-House, Tony Priolo of Piccolo Sogno, Stephanie Izard (Top Chef winner) of The Drunken Goat, and lots of other local greats.

Awesome food is not the only think on the menu, as wines from Robert Mondavi, Mionetto (one of my favorite sparkling wine producers), and Gaja Wines presented by Gaia Gaja, will be there for tasting, along with famed importer and producer, Anthony Terlato of Terlato Wines International, and his amazing portfolio featured at the Festival's largest tent.

Tickets can be purchased beforehand for $150 for a single day, or $250 for the two day weekend.  There are also upgrades for those who don't mind spending extra, such as Grand Cru tastings for $175 featuring some of the finest wines in the world presented by Master Sommeliers.  Here is a little hint to avoid the ticket price, which may be worth your while: Chicago Dine Around.  Starting now through September 27, if you dine at five different restaurants using their special prix-fixe menu, and attach each receipt to the Chicago Gourmet Dine Around Passport (available at all participating restaurants), you will be eligible for a free one day pass to the Festival.

Make sure to plan ahead and get in on Chicago's greatest food and wine event!

Beer and Hearty Belgian Food at Hopleaf Bar

Hopleaf Bar

Just another night of casual dining in Chicago brought my wife and I to Hopleaf Bar on Chicago's North Side, close to the intersection of Foster and Clark.  It was an easy ride down Lake Shore Drive, and we found ample parking before heading in for some Belgian delight.

The entrance places you in a bustling bar, where there is open seating for food and drink.  We headed to the rear of the establishment, where there is a small bi-level dining room, an open kitchen, and an outdoor patio.  We put our names on a seating list, then went back to the bar to grab a drink.  This was my biggest challenge, as there are over 40 beers on draft, along with three meads!  I went for the Dogfish Head (one of my favorite breweries, out of Maryland) Festina Peche, a seasonal Berliner Weisse fermented with peaches.  It was dangerously refreshing, as I could see myself guzzling a six pack in no time, and full of slightly unripened white peach flavor.  The bar was unfortunately out of non-alcoholic beers for my pregant wife, but we were quickly summoned to our table anyway, so on to the food!

We started with the Sausage Plate- a plate full of a variety of organic sausages, bourbon pancetta, and white beans.  It was extremely and I could see myself eating it on a nightly basis.  All the flavor of the sausages with the crunchy pancetta fulfilled my meat lover dream.  I would need a beer with more power, so I moved onto the Surly Brewing Company's Bender, a full oatmeal brown ale.  Moving along, we decided to split entrees- an organic Montreal style brisket, and the CB&J, which was crunchy toasted sour dough bread sandwiching fig jam, house made cashew butter, and morbier cheese.  Both were accompanied by Stilton mac and cheese, along with the french fries and garlic mayonnaise gave us the perfect Euro touch.  The brisket was bright pink, and very tender and flavorful- making the ground mustard almost unnecessary.  The mac and cheese was creamy and had good flavor, but was not quite as rich or as much of a knock-out as I expected.  The CB&J, on the otherhand, was an awesome meadley of tastes, with some sweet fruit, rich nuttiness, and creamy cheesey bliss.  It would easily make for the perfect lunch.

As if all of that was not enough, we went for dessert.  The selection process was fierce, but we went with the apple fritters.  Breaded fried apple slices, topped with powdered sugar, and caramel crème anglaise was what the doctor ordered.  It might have been the most delicious ending to one of my favorite dinners. 

All in all, Hopleaf Bar settled my belief in the fact that Chicago has some of the best casual restaurants in the world.  Small neighborhood spots, like this, are spattered throughout the city, just waiting to please hungry patrons, only to turn you into regulars.  It is going to be hard to turn this guy into a regular, since I love to try all kinds of new spot, but I will be back if I love it!  Expect me back at the Hopleaf.Hopleaf on Clark

Cheese and Beer at Goose Island Brewery

Beer and CheeseRecently I was invited to a beer and cheese matchup being held at Goose Island Brewery.  Most people think of wine when it comes to a beverage and cheese pairing, but beer also makes a perfect compliment.  Beers have weight and efferevescence, and flavor profiles can vary from dry hoppy to sweet, along with spice components.  Now, onto some beer and cheese.

The cheeses were brought to us by Neal's Yard Dairy, a cheese vendor out of London, England.  They carry over 60 cheeses, most from the United Kingdom and Ireland, but also some from Italy, France, Greece, and the United States.  We were each presented a plate with two washed-rind cheeses, two cheddars, and four blues.  They were paired off with four different beers.  Here is how the pairing went:

  1. Goose Island Willow St. White Ale with Ogleshield and Ardrahan.  The white ale was light and refreshing, with a touch of orange peel and coriander spice flavor.  A fine pairing with the washed-rind cheeses.  Ogleshield is made near Cadbury and has a slightly sweet taste and finish of orange peel.  Ardrahan is made in Kanturk, southwest Ireland, and is full of smokey and nutty flavor.

  2. Goose Island Rye Pale Ale with two separate milk harvest Montgomery's Cheddars.  The Rye P.A. had full bitter flavor with some rye spice.  The difference in the harvests for the cheddars was apparent, as the first was grassy and light, while the second was sharper with a bit of horseradish taste.  Depending upon when and where the livestock eats, there can be flavor differences in any cheese.

  3. Goose Island Matilda with Strathdon and Colston Bassett blue cheeses.  The Matilda is a Belgian style pale ale with a full, dry, yeasty texture.  I do not think this was the best pairing to go along with the strength of blue cheese- could have used a weightier, darker ale.  The Strathdon was extremely flavor, with the distinct odor and flavor of corn.  The Colston Bassett was very smooth and mild, and made with a vegetable rennet.

  4. Goose Island Fleur with Colston Bassett and Stichelton.  The Fleur was made in the same style as the Matilda, but also infused with hibiscus, adding floral sweetness.  This was a pretty beer, but, again, a beer I would not ideally pair with blue cheese.  This Colston Bassett was made with animal rennet, and was easily my pick as the best blue of the day.  It was not just salty and intensely flavorful, but also had a touch of smoked pork on the palate.  The Stichelton was the only organic cheese we tasted, and was easily the most complex.  It had the sharpness of cheddar, salty flavor of blue, and a tasty outside rind.

This was a great experience, and I look forward to more cheese pairings.  I was also reintroduced to Goose Island's new local menu, comprised of awesome seasonal selections made mainly from local farm product and fresh seasonal components.  If you make your way out to the brew pub, let me know which pairings you went with, and how they worked together!

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!

And the Winner Is...

img_1181Chicago's Best Palate 2009.  Four reputable sommeliers.  Three wines, blind tasted.  About thirty guests in attendance, blind tasting the same wines.  The pressure was on!

This event was held yesterday at the Hotel Sax Crimson Lounge.  Our sommeliers were up for quite a challenge- as a sommelier myself I was almost jealous!  Not only would the winner receive the title, but also a gift pack donated by event wine sponsor, Terlato Wines International.  This gift pack was comprised of the three-bottle Terlato "Peak Series" (Angel's Peak, Devil's Peak, and Cardinal's Peak), all excellent Napa Valley Bordeaux blends.  On to the tasting!

Blind tasting is a difficult challenge, even for the most fine tuned palate.  It takes good senses- sight, smell, taste.  But it img_11531also takes a bit of knowledge and deductive reasoning.  By using your senses, you can rule out certain varietals and wine regions in the world, while narrowing down the your choices.

Our sommeliers and guests had twenty minutes to narrow down their choices, and try to score points in a number of areas like varietal (grape variety, ie. Merlot), location (which included country, region, appelation, and bonus points for producer), and vintage (year the grapes were harvested).  After that time, the sommeliers revealed their picks and how they narrowed them down.  It was very informative, and I believe our guests learned alot.

Next, it was time to reveal the wines:

  1. 2007 Michel Chapoutier Crozes-Hermitage "La Petite Ruche" Blanc.  It is comprised of 100% Marsanne, a grape grown in the Rhone Valley

  2. 2006 Il Poggione Rosso di Montalcino.  A medium bodied red made from Sangiovese, grown around Montalcino in Tuscany.

  3. 2004 Rust en Vrede Shiraz.  A full bodied red made close to Stellenbosch, in the West Cape province of South Africa.

We were finally about to find our winners and give out the prizes.  By a narrow margin, Scott Tyree of Tyree Wine styree1Consulting is the winner of Chicago's Best Palate 2009!  Congratulations!  Also, congratulations goes out to our Amatuer Audience Best Palate Winner, Addie Braun, who went away with two wines donated img_1196by Eno, a sparkling rose made by M. Lawrence, and a Pinot Noir made by J. Wilkes.  We also had a winner of a gift certificate for Eno/Intercontinental Hotel for picking our winning sommelier.  Fun, drink, knowledge, and prizes- a win-win situation for all!

I want to thank our audience for attending, our sommeliers- Scott Tyree, Michael Taylor of the Italian Village, Alain Njike of Park 52, and Lucas Henning of C-House, my partner Theresa Carter- The Local Tourist, Terlato Wines International, Eno and the Intercontinental Hotel, and the Hotel Sax. 

I invited many Chicago sommeliers, and will invite many more next year- looking forward to having some female representation, as this city has some of the best in the world.  Can't wait for 2010!