Wine Enthusiast "Toast of the Town" Hits Chicago

Wine Enthusiast's Toast of the Town is on a five city tour across the country and will be stopping in Chicago on Friday, June 17th at the Field Museum!  Join with the rest of the city to enjoy 500 world class wines and gourmet dishes from Chicago's top restaurants.  Some of the wineries represented include Castello Banfi, Feudi di San Gregorio, Le Domaine de la Vougeraie, Hall Wines, Stag's Leap Winery, Schramsberg, Yalumba, Penfolds, Cloudy Bay and Casa Lapostolle, while the restaurants involved include Aria, The Purple Pig, Bistronomic, Chizakaya, The Florentine, Coco Pazzo, Sixteen and Rhapsody

Wine Enthusiast has been providing readers with valuable wine information and reviews for 23 years and Toast of the Town is on it's 11th tour.  Come out to one of Chicago's greatest venues to enjoy the food, drink and fun!  Click here to purchase your tickets today.

New Year's Eve Sparkling Bargains

So the New Year is just around the corner and you still haven't gotten around to picking that special beverage for your midnight toast.  Not a problem!  There are many very good, affordable choices out there to be had and sure not to disappoint.  Now you can always drop the plastic and pick up a bottle of Champagne, most of which cost over $30 per bottle.  But there's so many bottles of sparkling wine to grab that taste great and cost around $20 or less.  Let's get down to some of these choices:

There is always value to be found in Italy and for this occasion, grab the Prosecco.  It's a light, fresh sparkling wine made from a grape with the same name.  It typically has fairly intense primary flavors like pear, peach and apple.  I recommend Mionetto ($9.99) or Bisol ($12.99).

Cava has been a hot item, made in Spain from typically three different local varietals: Macabeo, Xarel-lo and Parellada.  It's made in the traditional method, where fermentation takes place in bottle, giving it extra complexity as the wine ages on the lees.  My favorite producer is Gran Sarao ($8.99) as they add a touch of Chardonnay to the blend giving it more body.

Next stop we have Methode Cap Classique, or sparkling wines from South Africa fermented in the bottle.  Many of these are made with Sauvignon Blanc or Chenin Blanc, but Chardonnay and Pinot Noir use is growing.  Go for the Graham Beck Brut ($14.99), a blend of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir with nice weight and lemon custard pie flavor.

In central Europe, the Germans and Austrians also are involved in excellent sparkling wine production, known as sekt.  The Germans normally (90%) use imported juice to make their sparkling wines, while the Austrians use local varietals and the traditional method to make theirs.  I'm a big fan of Szigeti Austrian sparkling Gruner Veltliner ($18.99) for it's clean apple flavor and light pepper spice.

We are, of course, no slouches to making sparkling wines in the United States.  California has great producers like Domaine Chandon, Iron Horse, Schramsberg and Domaine CarnerosSoter and Argyle are some of the best from Oregon, while Domaine Ste. Michelle holds the reigns in Washington state.  Chandon's Riche ($14.99), Schramsberg Mirabelle ($21.99) and Ste. Michelle's Blanc de Blanc ($7.99) provide a good range of weight, fruit, and style at inexpensive pricing.  I also really like Gruet Rose ($13.99) from New Mexico, as it provides a sparkling wine with excellent red fruit taste.

Now before we bypass France altogether, it's important to remember that there are alot more sparkling wines than just those that come from the Champagne region, mostly known as Cremant.  Examples can be seen all over the country, but I highly recommend one from Alsace by Gustave Lorentz ($14.99) made mostly of Pinot Blanc.  It has excellent citrus and apple with bright floral aromatics.

Whatever you choose, I'm sure that you will enjoy your New Year.  But just remember: be responsible and ask the Windy City Wine Guy for any further recommendations you may need.

(image courtesy of flickr)

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!