Zaca Mesa Viognier and Roussanne

I recently received a couple sample bottles of wine from Zaca Mesa, a very good family owned winery located in Santa Ynez Valley.  They've been making wine since the late 1970's and, through trial and error, found out that French Rhone varietals (Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre, Viognier, etc.) worked best with the land and climate.  They concentrated on making wines only from those varietals in the 1990's and have really blossomed into one of the best in their category.  Here's a short review of the wines I tried:

  • 2009 Estate Viognier ($20).  I really enjoyed this wine.  A really bright light gold color leads you into great aromas of peach and sea salt.  More ripe peach is on the palate along with cantaloupe and a hint of lemon acidity.  A weighty wine with full body and excellent flavor length.  It can stand to age a bit and would be great paired with spicy Thai noodles or a creamy cow's milk cheese like Stanser Rotelli.  91 WCWG
  • 2007 Estate Roussanne ($25).  Another wine with brilliant gold color with smell and flavor of honey and apricot.  There's alot of peach in this one also, with a bit of gold raisin and sweet rye.  It has a nice mineral streak as well.  The body is medium plus with decent flavor length.  I'm thinking herbed lemon chicken with this.  89 WCWG

If you get a chance, try these wines and more Rhone varietals- you'll be impressed!

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!

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!

Domäne Wachau Riesling Smaragd 2001

Domäne Wachau is a label formerly used by the cooperative Freie Weingärtner, now being run by Roman Horvath (Vineyard Manager) and Heinz Frischengruber (Winemaker).  The grapes are grown in the western portion of the Austrian Wachau, where the wines are known to be crisp and ageworthy.  This particular riesling is classified Smaragd, a word for the lizards that live in the vineyards, and stands for the most rare and full-bodied of rieslings.  The other classifications are Steinfeder, a word for grass, and known to be lighter, and Federspiel, a word for the noise a falconer makes to his bird, known to be a bit fuller. 

It is a bone dry, pale gold Austrian Riesling of great quality for the price (normally $24, end of bin for $7.99 at Binny's).  The wine has some whetstone and floral scents along with great minerality and citrus on the palate.  It is creamy with crisp acidity, full body, good spice, and a moderately long finish.  Great buy, even at normal price- WG 91 pts.