2012 Francis Ford Coppola Director's Cut Sauvignon Blanc

Director's Cut Sauvignon Blanc

Director's Cut Sauvignon Blanc

Francis Ford Coppola has a new line of wines available, his "Director's Cut", a limited production, appellation-designated brand sourced from Sonoma fruit.  I recently received a sample of their Alexander Valley Sauvignon Blanc ($21).  The 2012 vintage in most parts of California was amazing, like many US growing regions, with even seasonal temperatures throughout.  I like my Sauvignon Blancs fermented and aged in stainless steel, as this help maintain mouth-puckering acidity, minerality and clean citrus fruit.  This Director's Cut has a decent amount of acidity with more tropical fruit like mango and pineapple which had a candied quality.  If you like a wine with sweeter fruit, then this would be your type, but not mine, though it is a well-made wine.  (WG 85)

The Director's Cut lineup also includes a Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon and Meritage "Cinema", a blend of Zin, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Petite Sirah.  If you're looking to adventure into Sonoma's appellations, try them all!

Apothic Rosé at Graham Elliot Bistro


Just last week I had the chance to spend time with Apothic winemaker, Boyd Morrison, and other local writers & bloggers at GEB (Graham Elliot Bistro).  I was really excited, as it was my first time at GEB, and I'd heard some great things, but was also here to try the newly released Apothic Rosé.

Boyd & I at GEB

Boyd & I at GEB

Now Apothic is a wine which has taken Chicago by storm- I've seen it everywhere: in CostCo, Mariano's and everyone's kitchen!  The winery is based in Sonoma and owned by E. & J. Gallo Winery with a purpose of blending likeable, epic wines.  When I approached the bar, the GEB staff kindly poured me a glass of rosé and I was taken in by the sweet watermelon aroma.  When I took a sip, I noticed the syrupy weightiness of the wine, along with loads of sweet fruit.  This, like their white & red, was very likeable, especially for the price ($8-12).  For an old palate like mine, I found it too sweet, but I also immediately recognized they aren't trying to reach me as a demographic.  Boyd, formerly of Alexander Valley Vineyards, Jekel and Simi, informed me they'd been making a rosé for several years, but only for staff consumption.  And, just like their recent release of red, is a blend of Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon and Malbec.  On to dinner.

Apothic Rosé

Apothic Rosé

First course I had the Caesar which was simple, uncut and lightly slathered with a very garlicky dressing with awesome anchovy flavor.  It was paired with the rosé, which is a popular pairing, though I prefer Sauvignon Blanc.  It even works with the creamy dressing, because the acidity cuts into the mayo and egg, and the green tart citrus & berry matches most vegetables.

Second course I had a lemon risotto which was tart and creamy, an awesome combo if done correctly (it was!).  It was paired with the Apothic White, a blend of Chardonnay, Riesling and Moscato.  The body and citrus was there for this pairing, and the two worked well.

Third course was totally amazing- a tender, juicy, slow cooked veal breast with lightly macerated cannellini beans and pancetta vinaigrette.  The beans crazily glued the entire dish together.  Apothic Red was the pairing, and though I think it was a bit sweet, the body and smooth tannins proved a match.

Dessert did not let down, as I had a mini banana split with salted pretzel and caramelized nuts at the bottom.  Save room for this or the gianduja stuffed beignets!

The Dreaming Tree

I was recently sent wine samples from The Dreaming Tree, a new wine collaboration between winemaker Steve Reeder and musician Dave Matthews.  Steve has been involved with wine and beer making his whole life, having worked for Kendall Jackson, Alexander Valley Vineyards, Chateau St. Jean and Simi.  Now, I'm normally weary of wines made with celebrities, as they can be cheesy and uninspiring, but these wines are worth more than a second glance.  Also, Dave also owns a winery in Virginia (Blenheim Winery), and actively participates with his wines.


I tried two of their wines: the first was the 2012 "Everyday".  It's a Central Coast Monterey County white blend of 42% Gewurztraminer, 33% Riesling, 14% Albariño, 11% Viognier.  Looking at the varietals, one might think it's sweet, but it is actually a dry wine with loads of sweet fruit flavor like cantelope and honeyed peaches, and great citrusy meyer lemon.  It paired well with my spicy Thai noodles.  It's a good wine to try, but wouldn't be my everyday white.  (WG 84)


Next I tried the 2010 "Crush".  It's a North Coast red blend of 78% Merlot, 13% Syrah, 6% Zinfandel, 2% Petite Sirah, 1% Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon.  Full of fresh concentrated berry fruit, plums, light tannins and easy drinking.  I thoroughly enjoyed this red and highly recommend it (WG 89).

Both wines are at a great price point ($15) and another great feature of these wines, especially for a Green guy like me, are the practices involved: sustainable farming, no pesticides, recycled paper labels, lightweight bottles, sustainably grown corks.  Take a chance: Don't drink the water and Crash into these wines!

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!

2009 Pueblo del Sol Tannat

I just recently received a bottle of 2009 Pueblo del Sol Tannat from TasteVino and decided to twist it open (Yes- it has a screw cap!) and try it with dinner.  I'll bet most are asking,"what is Tannat?".  Well, Tannat is a grape varietal with origins in Southwest France, with wines from the Madiran AOC being most well known.  Immigrants brought the grape to South America and it has become the national grape of Uruguay, with much being grown to the north in Brazil as well. 

You're probably also saying,"wine from Uruguay?".  Well, you'll be surprised to know that there are over 20,000 acres of vineyards and 270 wineries.  But most of the wine is sold domestically, so we haven't seen much over here.  I hope we'll be seeing more as the varietal can be powerful and tannic like its French relative, or fresh, unoaked and fruity. 

When the wine first hit the glass I could tell it was going to be full of fresh fruit as I smelled blueberries along with many floral notes.  On the palate it was full of fleshy fruit with a touch of minerality, medium body and flavor length.  This is an everyday drinking wine as it is unoaked with a 12.5% ABV.  I definitely recommend this wine, especially for the value it brings- you can find it online for under $10.  (WCWG Score: 85)

Other producers which can be found include Bodega Bouza and Bodegas Carrau.  And if you're still interested in this grape you can find it in southern Italy and Sicily from Mirabile Winery.

Eastern European Spotlight: Croatian & Slovenian Wine

So since I've been hitting on wine producing countries and regions new to the global market, I look to keep the trend growing by introducing Croatia and Slovenia.  Both countries were formerly a part of Yugoslavia and are located just west of Italy.  Both countries have long been favorite European vacation spots and are experiencing prosperity.  Slovenia was admitted into the EU in 2004 and Croatia is targeted to enter next year.  Slovenia has mainly a continental climate with hot summers and cold, dry winters, though there is a bit of Mediterranean influence in the west.  Croatia has a Mediterranean coastal climate of long hot, dry summers and some wine being made inland with a continental influence.  Basically this means that along with good soil they have the capability to make some very good wine.

As far as grapes go, Slovenia uses Bordeaux and Burgundian varietals along with Riesling and some Italian varietals like Barbera, Refosco (known as Teran), Malvasia (Malvazija), Friulano, Glera and Ribolla Gialla (Rebula).  They also grow many indigenous varietals like Pinela, Šipon (Furmint), Kraljevina and Štajerska Belina.  They also have unique styles of wine: Cviček, a light, easy drinking wine made with white and red grapes, and Kraški Teran, a deep, dark red wine with low alcohol and high acid.

In Croatia, they also use Bordeaux, Rhone and Burgundian varietals along with Riesling and Italian varietals Barbera, Nebbiolo, Malvasia (Malvazija) and Trebbiano.  They also use MANY indigenous varietals like Bogdanuša, Grk Bijeli, Plavac Mali and Crljenak Kaštelanski, which is the father of Zinfandel.  They also use Vranec (known as Vranac), a Macedonian varietal known to create very dark red wines full of berry flavor and local Balkan character.

I have a list of some wines you may start seeing in restaurants or wine shops that you may like to try:

  • Saints Hill Winery- Very impressive Croatian wines.  They make their white "Nevina" in Istria with a blend of Malvazija and Chardonnay.  It's rich and full-bodied with minerality, citrus and tropical flavor along with a creamy texture.  Their red "Dingač" hails from the Pelješac peninsula on the southern coast.  It is made from Plavac Mali, an ancestor of Zinfandel, and has dark and dried fruit flavor with pepper spice and mocha.  It is full-bodied, has smooth tannins, a lengthy flavor and aging potential.
  • Matošević Winery- This winery also makes extremely high quality Croatian wine, mainly from Istria.  They have a stainless steel fermented Malvazija, Alba, which exhibits clean, easy drinking wine with citrus and mineral flavor with almond notes.  They make two Malvazija wines aged in oak, Alba Robinia in Istrian acacia barrels and Alba Barrique in French oak.  These wines are richer, with the Robinia tasting a bit smoky, while the Barrique exhibits caramel.  Their Chardonnay, Aura, is unoaked, light and refreshing.  Their Grimalda wines are blends, the white made of Chardonnay, Malvazija and Sauvignon Blanc, and the red made of Merlot and Refosco (Teran).  Both are excellent wines, and the red is smooth with integrated tannins, minerality, dark berry and oak spice.  This is a must try lineup!
  • Piquentum Winery-  Another Istrian winery which makes Malvoisie (Malvazija) full of pear, chalk and a touch of mint flavor.  Their Teranum is made of Refosco (Teran) is stainless steel fermented with natural fruit flavor, licorice and bright acidity.
  • Verus Winery- Slovenian winery using white grape varietals of Furmint, Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling.  The Furmint is the most interesting and very refreshing with high acidity and peach flavor.  Their Riesling resembles the German style of off-dry, slatey and full of lime, while the Sauvignon Blanc resembles the Loire with minerality and light citrus.

I am very impressed by the Croatian wines I've tasted and am looking forward to trying more Slovenian.  This is very promising as the world of wine continues to expand with different countries, styles and varietals.  Let me know if you've tried these or others, and let me know what you think!

Austrian Wines

It seems everyone is looking for the next new to the market wine producer, and Austria is definitely one of my favorites.  Though they seem new to the world market, they have a history that can be traced by four thousand years.  They were popular in past centuries and were the third largest producer in the world as recently as post World War I.  Unfortunatley, they produced mainly diluted bulk wine, but that changed with government regulations calling for smaller yields, technological advancement and more dry and red wine production.

Austria mainly grows Grüner Veltliner (36%), a white grape varietal with mineral, peach and pepper characteristics renowned for its food-friendly character.  They also produce Riesling and Müller-Thurgau, which is known to be light-bodied and full of green apple and mineral notes.  They are starting to be known for reds, which account for 30% of total production.  Zweigelt accounts for most of it and makes long lasting wines with jammy, cherry flavor along with pepper and soft tannins.  Blaufränkisch (also known as Lemberger) is another serious red making wines higher in tannins with dark fruit and spice notes.  Also made is Pinot Noir, known as Blauerburgunder.

I recently received a couple of samples, and here's how they scored:

2008 Forstreiter Gruner Veltliner Schiefer Kremstal DAC Reserve ($21).  This is a serious white with medium plus acidity, meyer lemon and tropical fruit flavor along with a touch of white pepper, slatey minerality and lemongrass.  Long flavor length and is surprisingly creamy on the palate.  (91 WG)

2007 Tinhof Blaufrankisch Bergenland ($20).  A light-bodied wine full of ripe dark cherry, red peppercorn, and cinnamon along with herbs and minerality.  (86 WG)

A few of my favorites also include Domäne Wachau Riesling Smaragd "Terrassen", Prager Riesling Federspiel, Paul Achs Zweigelt Langer Acker, Heinrich Blaufrankisch and Szigeti Sekt sparkling wines.  I highly recommend trying Austrian wines as I have found them to be, on the average, the highest quality wines in the world.  Ein Prosit!

BYOB at Lips Asian Bistro


Last Friday was my wife's birthday and I wanted to make plans to go somewhere new.  I wanted to be creative but nothing as crazy as "Date Night".  We both like foreign films, so I figured a trip up Southport to the Music Box was in order.  Now all I had to do was pick a restaurant.  My wife has been craving sushi since we found out she was pregnant last year and I discovered a little place called Lips Asian Bistro & Sushi Bar.


I made reservations a few days earlier and since the place is BYOB ($1 corkage per person), I needed a good wine to bring.  I decided on 2008 Gouguenheim Torrontés, a small craft wine made at high altitude in Argentina, available under $10.  Torrontés is a celebrated grape in Argentina, brought over by missionaries, and a great varietal for sushi- fresh zippy citrus fruit accompanied by crisp acidity and floral scents. 


 Traffic wasn't too bad for a Friday and parking on Southport was sparse, but available ($1.25/hour).  We purchased our tickets to the show "Pranzo di Ferragosto" (Mid-August Lunch) and walked down to Lips.  It was still before 7pm, so the restaurant was not busy yet and we had the pick of seats.  There is a sushi bar to the right, a small bar in the back and seating in the front and left side of the restaurant.  Upon seating we were presented with menus and specials and the waitress opened our wine.  Now it was time to decide on our maki rolls and sashimi (sushi pieces without rice), though they do have Japanese cold and hot appetizers and dinner entrees like ribeye steak, rack of lamb, bass, teriyaki and noodle dishes and Korean pork.  As usual when it comes to sushi, we decided to overeat, and ordered three rolls- Rainbow (California covered with tuna, salmon, yellowtail, and shrimp), Dragon (shrimp tempura covered with avocado and eel) and Strawberry (white tuna, tempura crunch and hot sauce topped with spicy tuna and strawberries) along with sashimi pieces. 


We enjoyed conversation, miso soup and our wine, which was varietally correct in being fresh, citrusy, floral with a hint of honey.  The sushi came to the table promptly with beautiful presentation.  The three rolls were lined up next to eachother on a large plate and our piece orders were individually plated and garnished, as usual, with pickled ginger and wasabi.  The sushi tasted even better than it looked- the rolls were packed with fresh fish and tasty mayos and sauces.  Even though I love eel, the Strawberry maki was my favorite- a perfect combination of spicy fish, sweet fruit and salty eel sauce.  The sashimi was a great value, two pieces per order, and the special maki was priced between $10-14.  This was an excellent meal with excellent value- our bill was still under $75.  No room left for dessert- we ate so much sushi we thought we were going to swim out of there!


Walking around we saw many sights like blocks full of greystone buildings, boutiques, bars and restaurants.  After a while our sweet tooth kicked in and we stumbled across a bakery called Sensational Bites.  They have unbelievable cupcakes (peanut butter, caramel, red velvet, etc), awesome brownies (mint, coconut, peanut butter, etc), pies, cakes and good coffee.  We ordered some for there and to go, and they cut our orders and plated them.  A great sweets bakery that every neighborhood needs.


The movie was the end of our date night and turned out to be very good.  A man named Gianni, who lives in Rome at home with his mama, is talked into taking care of a few friend's mothers in exchange for payment and favors.  Gianni is a very good cook who loves his wine and entertaining, which ends up being a convenient combination later in the movie. 


I recommend all our stops from that evening and you can copycat the date if you want- your companion will not be disappointed- let me know how it goes!


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!

Cubs vs. Sox- The Wine Way

3599085565_c99c835ba9[1]To kick off the impending Cubs vs. Sox series, Bill Daley of the Chicago Tribune tasted a couple of recently unveiled wines named after two of Chicago's favorite players.  The Mark Buerhle Merlot, called "Buerhlot", and the Derrek Lee Cabernet Sauvignon, called "Caberlee", are two wines made by Longball Cellars in California.  I love the fact that many of these "celebrity wines" offer proceeds to charity, but many of them offer extremely pedestrian wines.  Check out the review, and see who wins!

(image courtesy of flickr)

Wine & Food Evolution at The Tasting Room

img_1012It was a leisurely Friday evening out on the town for the Windy City Wine Guy and wife, and we were on our way to The Tasting Room on Randolph.  It is located on the corner of Randolph and Ogden, with free parking in a small lot and plenty of street parking in front.  Randolph Wine Cellars is connected to the two floor Tasting Room, offering retail small production wine, beer, and spirits.  After passing by the storefront, we headed in to begin a tasting adventure.

We decided to check out the second floor and were amazed at both the breathtaking views of downtown and the coziness.  Exposed brick walls, dim romantic lighting, and puffy leather couches littered the hardwood-floored open space.  We were presented with menus, and were given time to look and talk.  We perused the menu, which included cheeses, flatbreads, small plates, fondues, greens, and desserts (including gelato).  After a bit, we decided on a sparkling Blanc de Blancs (Chardonnay) for my wife, Australian riesling for myself, and a Florentine flatbread.  Service was both prompt and unintrusive- we definitely did not feel rushed (other establishments- take note!).  We were also greeted by The Tasting Room Director, Nick Luedde, an old colleague of mine.  He is both a very knowledgeable sommelier and a charismatic host.  We shared a few laughs and then he left us to work the room.

Our flatbread came out, and was accompanied by a few friends: a caprese salad and a cheese plate, courtesy of Nick (all in the photo).  The flatbread had a crisp crust and was very tasty with Drunken Goat cheese, spinach, and carmelized onions.  The caprese salad was built in tower form, with fresh mozzarella stacked over sliced tomato (not as ripe as one would like) and basil.  A combo balsalmic vinegar/truffle oil emulsion was drizzled on the plate, and was absolutely delcious- its syrupy, sweet, truffled flavor led me to wipe the last bit of it from the plate with bread!  Their cheese plate (priced at $25 for five cheeses) was quite an ensemble.  It is presented on in-house, handcrafted cheese boards made from lacquered wooden wine cases (we had one from Chateau la Nerthe).  All five cheeses were delicious and accompanied by four types of artisan bread, roasted cashews, and dried cranberries.  We also tried an olive tapenade, roasted peppers, sundried tomatoes, and fresh green Sicilian olives.  It was a feast which needed only good conversation, time, and more wine!

We had some red next, my wife choosing a Portuguese Toriga Nacional based blend, while I went with my all time favorite Barbera, Rivetti's La Spinetta "Ca' di Pian".  The wine list is impressive, with over 100 wines available by the taste (2oz.), tasting flight (3x 2oz.), or the glass (6oz.), and a huge bottle list.  It is littered with many handcrafted, small batch wine favorites, offering great value for some killer wines.  Don't be afraid to ask your server or Nick for suggestions, because they know their product and won't steer you wrong.

There are also some great weekly and monthly deals to take advantage of.  Every Monday is half priced glass pours, while Tuesdays offer half priced bottles (originally priced under $99).  They also offer a $30 tasting every third Tuesday of the month, featuring 50 wines.  Also, look for their augmented menu, being released Monday, March 2nd.  It will include main course options like tupelo honey-sarsparilla soaked bone on pork loin, southwest seared ahi, air & water (pan seared duck breast and butter poached lobster tail), foie gras smothered grilled NY strip, piave brûléed jumbo sea scallops, grenache braised short rib sous-vide, mesquite kiawe smoked game hen, and pan seared monkfish, all priced between $20-32.  The small plates will spruce up a bit with miso rubbed bershire pork belly, ceviche, bacon wrapped and manchego stuffed dates, and NY strip bruschetta.  I can't wait!

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.)

Tangley Oaks Wines

home11I have been a fan of Anthony Terlato and his company, Terlato Wines International (TWI), for my entire wine career.  I have respected him as a member of the Italian American community, a wine enthusiast, his business savvy, and am currently reading his memoir entitled "Taste".  It is also great to see one of Chicago's own on the international wine scene.  I recently contacted TWI, hoping for an interview with Mr. Terlato, and I was informed he is staying at his estate in Napa Valley, but will be available in the spring (stay tuned for the interview!).  In the meantime, they wanted the Windy City Wine Guy to review their Tangley Oaks wines.The Tangley Oaks wines were created to give wine newcomers a "luxury" line of wines from select vineyards in Napa Valley and Santa Barbara County at an affordable price ($15-20).  They are name after Mr. Terlato's Tangley Oaks Estate  in Lake Bluff, IL., and meant to offer value and reflect the terroir of their respective regions.  TWI offers three different varietals, and here is how they rate:

  • 2005 Tangley Oaks Chardonnay Lot #3.  A light golden color gives way to smells of honey cream and golden apple.  Flavors of ripe pears and apples, slightly charred oak, cinnamon and vanilla spices.  A full body and a medium length.  This is a very nice chardonnay for the price, without all the typical California oak.  88 pts. WG

  • 2005 Tangley Oaks Merlot Lot #7.  Very light ruby color with a very cherry bouquet: cherrywood, cherry pie, cherry cough syrup, cherries!  The tannins are very light, making an extremely easy drinking wine.  The texture is smooth with a flavor profile consistent with the bouquet, but with a touch of cocoa.  I like a bit more from my Merlots, and the length was lacking.  82 pts. WG

  • 2005 Tangley Oaks Cabernet Sauvignon Lot #9.  The color was a bit more intense on this red, with purple on the meniscus.  Smells of sugar plums, cedar, and potpourri were clearly evident.  Medium tannic grip on the gums gave way to juicy plum and cherry flesh, along with some tobacco on its medium finish.  Another easy drinking wine, but with a bit more structure and body.  85 pts. WG

These wines offer some definite value, as it can be hard to find vineyard specific Napa Valley reds in this price range.  The chardonnay was my favorite, and can see myself having it with some lemon marinated grilled bass.  Overall, a pleasing experience.  A hint from the WCWG in regard to Terlato wines: you have to try Terlato & Chapoutier Shiraz- Viognier.  The winery itself is a joint effort by the Chapoutier (of French Rhône fame) and Terlato families in Australia.  The grapes for the Shiraz (95%) Viognier (5%) come from central Victoria, and the wine exhibits excellent dark fruit flavor, spice, and body to go with its rich, dark color.  It retails for around $19, making it a great buy.  

Try one of these wines, or some of the many in TWIs portfolio- over 13% of all wines priced over $14 in the US are marketed by Terlato!

Birthday at Spacca Napoli

night1Another birthday is coming up and my wife decided to help me indulge in my heritage with a trip to Spacca Napoli.  They make pizza in the traditional Napoletano style: wheat flour, thin crust, with fresh ingredients cooked in a wood burning oven.  We heard so much about it from friends and reviews, so we took a drive up to try it out.

Almost everyone loves pizza, but you can never truly appreciate it until you have the best, which is made in its 190px-traditional_pizza_from_napoli1home- Napoli.  Very good pizza is made elsewhere, but it's at its best in southern Italy.  On a visit there, I asked "Why?".  Many did mention the wheat, but all said it was the water.  Only natural spring water is used to make the dough.  I will always remember the pizza there, with every establishment making the most perfect crust, amazing sauce, and fresh ingredients.  The picture to the right is of a typical pizza made in Napoli.

Now on to Spacca Napoli.  My wife and I walked in and were seated promptly.  Our server was peppy and announced the specials before retrieving a Peroni for me and some Prosecco for my wife.  Our appetizers were then brought to us- a Bufala Mozzarella salad with ripe red tomatoes and very large leaves of delicious basil drizzled with olive oil, and an Insalata di Mare- calamari, shrimp, and cuttlefish with chopped celery.  The dish was a bit flavorless and not quite as fresh as others I've had.  Our server pressed us about four times for our pizza order (it seems as though they are coached to "turn and burn" the tables), and we finally gave it after ordering a bottle of Cantina del Taburno "Fedelis" Aglianico.  Aglianico is the special red grape of southern Italy.  It can create big bodied, fruity, earthy, long lived tannic wines.  This one was satisfactory with ripe dark plum and espresso flavor accompanied by slightly grippy tannins, but with a medium minus length and finish.  They give small drinking cups with all wine, and while I believe this is taverna style, I also think if you order a bottle you should be given proper stemware. 

oven1Our pizza came out VERY fast- I believe in less than five minutes!  This usually does not bode well, and did not in this case.  The crust was soft and tasty, but had more than a few burn marks, which affected the flavor.  The middle was still a bit rare.  I attribute this to two factors: 1) Pizza not left in long enough, away from the flame, and 2) the sauce.  Tomato sauce should be rich, thick, and deep red.  This was not the case, as it was thin and not very flavorful.  Also, the small amount of basil used was thrown together instead of lovingly place atop the pizza.  Plus, the mushrooms atop my wifes pizza were definitely not quality.  They seemed to be drowned button mushrooms, while I would have used fresh cremini as an ingredient.

On to dessert.  We shared a tiramisu, which had a fluffy sweet mascarpone top over slightly over marinated savoiardi biscuits.  Our bill was brought to us before we could order coffee, but we did anyway.  Overall, we felt Spacca Napoli tries to rush you in for some pizza, and back out.  The dough is quite good, but the making of the pizza along with the ingredients make it fall far short of Napoletano style.  I love the wine list which is almost totally comprised of southern Italian wines.  Whites include Fiano, Greco di Tufo, and Falanghina, while reds of Primitivo, Aglianico, Nero d'Avola, and white and red Lacryma Christi are offered.  If you are in the neighborhood, try it out, but remember there are better options in Chicago.

New Year's Celebration: Champagne Splurge

531192447_e03d6afda81This is the time of year for celebration with all of the holidays and New Year's Eve upon us.  There are festivities and parties, and nothing says splurge like Champagne.  It is a beverage that was originally sought over 150 years ago by royalty in every nation, and today means celebration for all classes.  While people love Champagne and it is the undisputed king of sparkling wine, the costs have risen sharply over the last decade.  New wealth in countries like Russia and China have raised demand, with only a marginal increase in production.  Other areas and countries have gotten into sparkling wine production, with good value and success, but Champagne remains on top.

If you are looking for some value with your Champagne splurge for the New Year, the Windy City Wine Guy has some picks for you.

Here are five great valued Champagne choices:

  • Piper Heidsieck Brut NV ($25).  I like the minerality, lemon citrus, and light ginger spice on this sparkler.  It finishes long but a bit tart.  Also widely available with over 60,000 cases imported to the US.

  • Comte Audoin de Dampierre Grand Cuvée NV ($39).  A medium weight dry champagne with rich citrus, brioche, creamy character.

  • Philipponat Royal Reserve Brut NV ($40).  Extremely complex with bread, yeast, and ripe red fruit on the nose, and lime and black currant on the palate.  Loaded with flavor and crisp acidity.

  • Henri Mandois Origine Brut NV ($40).  Ripe pear, baked lemon, and toasty vanilla highlight this crisp champagne selection.

Now for those who feel like throwing down, I have three great choices:

  • 1999 Dom Perignon ($120).  My wife and I chose this as our anniversary celebration wine.  The aromas and flavors exuded are a life experience.  So complex with smells of flowers, pineapple, cinnamon, and hints of cocoa.  The taste of meyer lemon, anise, and smokey oak combine well with crisp earth tones and an alarming long flavor.

  • 1996 Salon Blanc de Blancs ($270).  This wine is only produced in extremely good years.  Flinty minerality and loads of lemon/lime citrus accompany yeast and bready goodness.  The rich creaminess and acidity keep this wine fresh and lively for years to come.

  • Krug Grande Cuvée Brut NV ($160).  Krug is the king of Champagne houses, turning out the most quality (and pricey!) wines available.  Their Non-Vintage explodes with coconut, coffee bean, toast, and sugared citrus.  Deep and complex.

Just a couple of hints when you are picking your Champagne.  Vintage Champagne is created in only special years, those where the grapes are allowing to grow and ripen to full potential.  These wines will exude the best that year has to offer.  Non-Vintage (NV) Champagnes are made to be consistent in accordance to the Champagne house's specified recipe.  Each release should taste the same as the next, as they blend different varietals and vintages, offering a delicious and reliable product. 

If you would like to try a variable sweetness level, remember that Brut Natural is the driest.  It then goes up to Extra Brut, and Brut.  You will start to taste more sweetness with Extra Dry, then Sec, Demi-Sec, and Doux being the sweetest.  Also remember that Rosé wines are pink and fruity, but can be just as dry the clear sparkling wines, depending upon their rating.

Enjoy the Champagne and enjoy New Year!

(Image courtesy of flickr)

Newman's Own

newmans-ownThe entire world lost a great man this year when Paul Newman passed away.  I have always admired him as a philanthropist, an advocate of eating/drinking right, and an actor.  I grew up watching Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Sting, Cool Hand Luke, The Hustler, and The Color of Money.  I have also been a big fan of Newman's Own, a company Paul founded in 1982 which focuses on natural and organic foods and sends all profit to charity.  The Caesar dressing has alway been my favorite.  During a recent visit to Jewel, I ran across Newman's Own 2006 California Cabernet Sauvignon for $13.99.

The wine is a joint effort by Newman's Own, Three Thieves (Joel Gott, Charles Bieler, and Roger Scommegna), and Trinchero Family Estates.  They also produce a Newman's Own Chardonnay, with both wines being made from organically grown grapes. 

I popped open the bottle to give it a try along with some Home Run Inn pizza my wife heated up.  I was pleasantly surprised for the price point.  The wine has smells of dried dark fruit and pencil lead.  It is medium bodied, with some black currant, plum, and vanilla oak spice on the palate.  A delight for a wine under $15.   (WG 85pts.)

It is always a pleasure to try a Newman's Own product and I look forward to trying the Chardonnay.

Hall Wines

Windy City Wine Guy attended a tasting of Hall Wines from Napa Valley at Tru and the wines impressed.  When I first walked in, I tasted their 2007 Sauvignon Blanc and it was instant refreshment- citrus and tropical fruits accompanied by minerality and a long finish.  I soon met Kathryn Hall, who owns the winery along with her husband Craig.  Kathryn has a very colorful background of being an attorney, community activist, and former US Ambassador to Austria.  Her views on organics and the environment are very conscious and refreshing.  Then it was time to try the wines...

We were ushered into a meeting room where seven red wines were sitting in front of each of us.  President and former wine maker for Hall Wines, Michael Reynolds, was onhand to introduce each wine and lend his extensive knowledge. 

The tasting was a great opportunity to not only taste different terroirs, but also different vintages.  It is always amazing and fun to see how each of these can have such differing aromas and tastes.  We started off with "Jack's Masterpiece" 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon.  This was named after Mike's son, who painted the very colorful label when he was 18 months old!  This is a very likeable Cab, with big fruit flavor and easy tannins.  Next was Diamond Mountain 2005 Cab which was very earthy and structured while Kathryn Hall 2005 Cab was like a combo of both wines with some slight earth and spice to accompany dark fruits. 

We were priveledged to taste four 2006 vintage wines which have not been bottled and released yet.  This showed the difference in the years.  2005 was clearly a great vintage for Hall and brought out alot of what the grapes were capable of.  2006 seemed a bit hot with the alcohol coming through a bit more.  The great structure and earthiness was still there, and I could tell the wines needed a bit more aging- they will turn out great in a few years.

The owners, winery, and vineyards are riding a green wave for the environment.  Also, Hall is in its last year of the three year organic certification process.  Recycling of packaging, paper, and water is extensive and they have taken huge steps toward carbon zero by using bio-deisel to fuel farm equipment.  Water efficiency, solar power, and sustainability are practiced.  The Hall family is also involved in the local community and donate a portion of profits to their charity foundation.  This is a company and family to be followed in this new century.

Around the World Tasting @ South Loop Wine Cellar

The Windy City Wine Guy has always been an advocate of local neighborhood wine shops.  Mine is in the south loop at the South Loop Wine Cellar.  Amy Garman is the owner, and she carries a small selection of quality wines which she knows all about.  There are weekly tastings held at the shop, and I attended the Around the World Tasting held Saturday, October 18.  There were many distributors on hand to pour and answer questions- and they were all needed too as people poured in from all over the south loop!

There were some very good wines at this tasting and here are my favorites:

  • Axios "Truth", Lindsey's Cuvee 2006: This blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Petit Verdot delivers deep dark fruit, vanilla and oak spice, smokey bacon aroma, and earth.  $22.50

  • Seven Hills Merlot 2006: A silky Merlot with great integrated tannins and acidity.  Smooth fruits, nice body, and long finish.  $25.99

  • Finca Villacreces, Ribera del Duero, 2005: This big Spanish red has it all- dusty earth, oak, cherry, rich soil, and spice.  A bit young, let it age.  $47.50

  • Brooks Riesling 2006: I love this producer (ENO has the Amycas blend).  A rich dry white with slate, lime, apple, chestnut, and minerality.  So refreshing.  $19.99

  • Chateau St. Cosme: There was a Côtes du Rhône ($18), Gigondas ($34), and Chateauneuf du Pape ($49), each better than the other.  Cannot go wrong with any of these as each is worth more than the price.

  • Gunn Estate Unoaked Chardonnay 2007: A great expression of what Chardonnay is without all the alteration- honeyed apples, pear, and chalk.  Great ripe fruit.  $18.99

  • Buglioni Valpolicella Classico 2006: Light and fresh with great acidity and bitter dark fruit.  $16

This was a great neighborhood event, as I met with lots of fellow south loop residents.  We were able to talk about the goings-on, as well as our liking of Amy and the wine shop.  Where is your neighborhood?  Tell WCWG and promote your local wine shop!

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.

Boxed Wine Craze - A Ready to Drink Option

As the Windy City Wine Guy, hearing the words "box" and "wine" in the same sentence is like hearing "steak" and "well-done" (gotta have some blood in that meat!).  But, with a little bit of research and tasting, seeing those two words together may be a taste of the future.

Whether most want to admit it or not, this is a part of our past, present, and future.  Most families used to, and do today, use larger receptacles to hold wine.  WIth the awareness of our world's energy problems, growers and producers have been stepping up and going green.  With all of the biodynamics and organics, it only makes sense that ready to drink wines (RTDs) will be boxed.

Many wines are made RTD- especially affordable ones.  These wines do not need the slow process of bottle aging to soften them and bring around their full potential.  But when these wines are placed in 750ml bottles and transported around the globe, that uses energy.  The glass is recyclable, but many do not recycle.  The new boxes are 3L (equal to 4 bottles) and recyclable- do it!

I bought the 2006 Killer Juice California Central Coast Cabernet today for $14.99 from Sam's Wine in the South Loop.  The spout pops out of the box and pours easily.  It seals the wine in and is usable for up to six weeks.  The wine is a lighter style of Cab with dusty dark fruit on the nose and palate along with some oak and licorice.  The finish lasts a good five seconds.  This wine is good with light meats and tomato sauces.  79 pts. WG

New technology is available with the Tetra Pak and Tetra Prisma.  French, American, and the eagerly awaited Yellow+Blue Argentine Malbec are on the way- I cannot wait until they are available in the Windy City.  These containers are amazing!  And the Windy City Wine Guy will be there to drink and review.