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!

Celebrate St. Patrick's Day in Style: Irish Cheese and Beer

cheesestout1This is the time of year to celebrate everything Irish, especially in Chicago.  I remember being in Dublin, Ireland, during St. Patrick's Day, and everyone wanted to know why I was there- "Why aren't you in Chicago?" they all said.  Chicago throws the one of the largest Paddy's Day party in the world.  Heck, we even dye the Chicago River green!  Well, one of the best ways we all know to celebrate this event is with some beer.  If we throw in some genuine Irish cheese, that would round out the party!

Lets start with the cheese.  Some of the best cheeses to go along with beer are Irish cheeses.  Here are three cheeses sure to please:

  1. Cahill's Irish Porter Cheddar.  This excellent cheddar, made by Marion Cahill, is made in Limerick.  The cheese is flavored with Irish porter and sealed with waxed truckle.  It is a beautifully marbled, full flavor cheese.

  2. Blarney Cheese.  This is a versatile semi-hard cow milk cheese with a lower fat content.  The flavors are mild and will pair well with many different beverages.

  3. Ardrahan Cheese.  This washed-rind, semi-soft, cow milk cheese is from southern Ireland.  Mary Burns has been making this cheese for over 15 years from her 120 pedigree Friesan Holstein cows.  It has an earthy, pungent, mushroom flavor.  Goes great with strong flavored beverages.

These cheeses should be accompanied by soft grain breads, crackers, and sausages.  They should be available at many outlets, and are also on menu at Intercontinental Chicago Eno Wine Room.  If you stop by, make sure to ask for me! 

There are quite a few Irish beers to try with them, but I recommend you try some US microbrews.  The quality level is much higher in comparison to the Irish beers available in your local shops and stores.  Try these beers out:

  1. Great Lakes Brewing Co. Eliot Ness Lager.  This lager has it all- hoppy bitterness, deep body, sweet carmel malt.  The flavors mix well with full cheeses and sausage.  Goes for around $8.50 per 6pack.

  2. North Coast Brewing Co. Old Rasputin Russian Imperial Stout.  This is a full body, creamy, rich stout.  It has malty chocolate, coffee, and smokey caramel.  It is a strong beer, and can stack up to any cheese or meat.  Goes for around $8 per 4pack.

  3. Great Lakes Brewing Co. Edmund Fitzgerald Porter.  An unbelievable thick and balanced porter.  The mocha, espresso, fruit sweetness, and smokiness come full flavored on the big body.  The lower abv is better for enjoyment.  An awesome beer available for around $8.50 per 6pack.

  4. Bell's Brewery Lager of the Lakes.  Another lager pick, in case you are looking to make black & tans.  The citrus and corn sweetness make this a refreshing and versatile beer.  It is available for around $9 per 6pack.

These beers are all quite complex and full of flavor.  I selected a porter, a stout, and two lagers.  In case you're wondering, there is not much difference between a porter or stout.  The name stout has been around a bit longer, and normally has a bit more roasted barley than a porter.  They are both dark and creamy, with light weight, and burnt, chocolatey, smokey characteristics.  These beer types mirror the classic Irish types, especially Guinness stout and Harp lager.  Hope these tips help, try to avoid green beer, and feel free to comment!

(photo 1 courtesy of flickr) (photo 2 courtesy of flickr)