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!

Winter Preparation: Saving on Favorite Wines, Beers & Spirits

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

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

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

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

Sparkling Wine 101 Event

Spring is upon us, so no better time to have a Sparkling Wine 101 tasting and seminar from the Windy City Wine img_11051Guy.  The event took place at the Binny's South Loop Tasting Room.  It was an intimate setting with a gorgeous view of the Chicago skyline, including the Sear's Tower.  My guests were set to taste three sparkling wines paired with cheese, and a whole lot of info.

The tables were pre-set with three Riedel sparkling wine glasses and the pouring began.  The sparkling wines we were about to taste are simple and affordable examples geared to give occasional bubbly fun, without the need to splurge on a Champagne.  The three samples included:

  1. Mionetto "Il" Prosecco.  This is a great, every occasion, sparkling wine.  It is light and bubbly, with simple peach and pear flavor.  The perfect apéritif!

  2. Gran Sarao Brut Cava.  Cava is always made in the méthode champenoise, and this is a great value example.  Green apple and light, doughy flavor.

  3. Dm. Ste. Michelle Blanc de Blanc.  A Washington state sparkling Chardonnay produced in the traditional method.  Dry, tart, and rich, with pear, pineapple, and toasty coconut.

We also had three perfectly paired cheeses to go along with the wines:

  1. Brie le Chatelain.  This creamy, buttery, soft cow milk cheese from northeast France is delicious inside and out.  A perfect rich texture to accompany the crisp acidity of a sparkling wine.

  2. Mimolette.  This semi soft cow milk cheese from northwest France has a Parmesan-like sweetness and nuttiness.  Perfect with sparkline wines.

  3. Gorgonzola Dolce.  Dolce in Italian means sweet, but it also means young when referring to this cow milk blue cheese.  It hails from northwest Italy (Lombardia).  The creamy texture and mild, salty flavor make it ideal for sparkling wine.

The lecture ranged on subjects from differing sparkling wine viniculture methods to Dom Perignon and the history of Champagne.  There was a very informative Q&A segment, followed by a pour-off of the remaining wine.  A great time img_1101had by all!  I want to thank the Binny's staff, especially GM Juan Torres, and all the attendees.  Ciao!img_1095img_1099img_1103img_1092img_11041

Local Buyers and Experts Give Consumer Value

The Windy City Wine Guy has dedicated multiple portions of this sight to find value for readers and consumers.  Now I decided to go out into my neighborhood, the South Loop, and speak with shop owners, experts, and GMs about the best value white and red wines they have to offer.

South Loop Wine Cellar: Amy Garman, owner, offers both a white and red from Nine North Wines.  Their 2006 10 Mile Proprietary White "Lost Horizons" is a blend of Chardonnay, Viognier, and Chenin Blanc.  Tropical fruit and floral notes accompany crisp acidity.  The 2004 10 Mile California Red "The Broken Road" is mainly made up of Petit Sirah with some Malbec, Zinfandel, Barbera, and Carignane.  A medium+ bodied wine with flavors of black fruits and pepper.  Each of these wines are offered for $10.99.

Binny'sThe South Loop location is on Jefferson, just north of Roosevelt.  Manager Juan Torres recommends two old world selections.  His red is 2005 Venta Mazzaron, 100% Tinto de Toro, which is the name of the Tempranillo varietal from Zamora, Spain.  Only $12.99.  A rich red with smoke, black fruit, and a touch of sweetness.  His favorite white is 2006 Le Prieuré St. Sever In Optimis Chardonnay.  Stainless steel fermented varietal $9.99 with a clean style for the "unoaked crowd".  Get it for $9.99.

Sam'sI met with Shadla Cycholl, Wine Consultant, who specializes in Italian wines.  Her white pick was Italian, 2007 Domenico Armani "Io" Sauvignon Blanc, which has lush fruit and minerality for $12.99.  For red, go to Chile for Chono Carmenere 2006.  A soft, silky medium bodied autumn wine for $11.99.

Whole FoodsI spoke with Kristen who steered me over to 2007 Domaine de Regusse Pinot Noir.  This red from Provence has an oaky, herbal quality with ripe red fruits- $10.99.  A white bargain is the 2008 Crios Torrontes- fruity and dry for $12.99.  Kristen also suggested the Optimis Chardonnay.  Must be a bargain!

Dominick'sHerbie Reyes, General Merchandise Manager, brought me to a white he likes to share with his wife, 2006 Bella Sera Pinot Grigio.  A crisp, clean choice for $7.48.  His favorite red is 2007 Robert Mondavi Private Selection Pinot Noir for $10.98.

Jewel, on Roosevelt and Wabash, was noncommittal in regard to favorites, but does have a few of the Windy City Wine Guy's Best Buys onhand.  I am also awaiting word from Warehouse Liquors on Wabash between Balbo and Harrison.  They do have a number of fine wines onhand and helpful staff.

 (Image courtesy of Flickr)

Killer Close Outs

I have many wines which I enjoy for under $20, even under $10, but I am a big fan of Binny's End of Bin deals.  These are wines they have held onto a bit too long, wines which aren't selling, or wines they need replaced for added shelf space.  Most are fantastic deals and others may be just worth the sale price.  Just remember to visit the stores often if you want to catch them because they disappear fast!  I bought eight really good plus quality wines for $115 with tax- less than $15 average price per.

L'Aventure Cote a Cote 2005- $29.99 my price/$81.65 online price.  A classic from Paso Robles, California, made from equal parts Grenache, Syrah, Mouvedre (all French Rhone Valley grapes) created by Stephan Asseo.  This wine will age well and exude smoke, dark fruits, and minerality.  Given a 91/100 by US lead wine critic Robert Parker (WCWG does not advocate using "expert" scores or descriptions strictly, but only as a minor reference point).  Any wine you can get for half or less than it's value is a great deal!

Cline Big Break Zinfandel 2005- $9.99/$30  Loads of strawberry, dark dusty berries, vanilla, mint, and spice pack flow out of the bottle.  This Zin is made for power.  I normally buy Cline Zins and bought two of these.

Batasiolo Barbaresco 2003- $16.99/$27.99  Good vintage and a steal for this quality NW Italian great.

Kunin Viognier 2005- $12.99/$27  Great body, exotic citrus, spice, and score (90) for this Rhone white.

Mueller Chardonnay 2005- $14.99/$29.99  Full body, toasy and buttery, butterscotch, and lotsa fruit.

Big Fire Pinot Gris 2006- $6.99/$14.99  I cannot wait to try this Oregon bargain.  Bought it after reading Brian's blog, Hustle's Wine on Trial.  Sounds irresistable. 

Mazzi Poiega Valpolicella Superiore 2000- $4.99/$16.99  Ripe black fruit and cherries, nuts, and old world flavors.  You can taste the dried fruit and long finish.

This goes to show the great tastes and bargains you can get with just a bit of timely searching and stocking.  So before you go reaching for that Two Buck Chuck, Yellow Tail, or box of wine try one of these or a similiar bargain- you will be rewarded and your wine collection will become instant money.