Category Archives: wine

Sip, taste and save your fine wines with Coravin

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a Bocksbeutel style Bottle
a Bocksbeutel style Bottle (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A joke goes around periodically in an email called something like “Household tips.” One of the bullet points in its list of ways you can  make your life easier, faster, smoother reads: “Store leftover wine in ice cube trays so you can chill your wine without diluting it.” The parenthetical response is always: “(Leftover wine?)” To many people, the phrase is a contradiction in terms if ever there was one.

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Yet for the true wine aficionado, the very essence of loving wine means you may want to savor a sip or a glass of some fine wine but not want to drink the whole bottle. Maybe you don’t have any friends over at that time – or maybe you just don’t want to share this particular bottle, although most winemakers say any wine tastes better when shared with friends. Hey, it’s your decision. And with Coravin’s Wine Preservation Opener, you can freely taste even the finest wines without pulling the cork – and know that your treasure will still be good days, weeks, months, even years from now just as if you’d never opened it.
Coravin screw cap sampler
Coravin screw cap sampler

The company’s been perfecting this system for corked wines for a long time. And recently they’ve introduced a unique specialized cap mechanism for tapping screwtop wines for just a taste or a glass. You use  Coravin’s specially designed tappable screw top with the system to preserve the freshness of the wine for up to three months. The system includes small canisters of their special gas that replaces the space in the bottle created by your sample so that oxygen – which ages wine rapidly and then deteriorates it – never gets inside the bottle.

Lots of wine experts swear by this device. It looks a bit intimidating to use, but the company website has a nice video showing you step-by-step how to use the Coravin system.  They also have a helpful list of FAQs. Now you can feel confident that you can purchase bottles of really nice wine and know you can keep them much longer after tasting than you’ve ever been able to. Brilliant invention for wine lovers everywhere. Get it online at Amazon or in stores like Bed, Bath and Beyond, Best Buy, Williams Sonoma and others. Prices start at $199 and go up as you add supplies and accessories.
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Folio Fine Wine Partners presents wines of the world

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Folio Fine Wine Partners, a group organized by Michael Mondavi Family Estates, represents an extensive collection of excellent wines from around the world. They brought some of their clients to Chicago recently to showcase a truly beautiful collection of vintages and blends. Plus they conducted a Master Class on one of their Spanish winemakers, Alejandro Fernández.  See **notes below.
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A bottle of Pesquera Tinto Crianza 1995, a win...
A bottle of Pesquera Tinto Crianza 1995, a wine from Ribera del Duero. Español: Botella de Pesquera Tinto Crianza 1995, vino con D.O. Ribera del Duero. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

After learning about the many faces of Tempranillo during the Master Class, the Folio Fine Wine reps sampled selections from among a number of their clients (see their full portfolio here). A few wineries from their international portfolio clients are listed below:

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France
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South America
Susana Balbo wines from Mendoza – exquisite wines made with grapes like Torrontes, Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and more. She creates magic in Mendoza.
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Italy
Donnafugata – Passionate makers of a range of wines made from grapes indigenous to Sicily such as Grillo and Nero d’Avola as well as blends using well-known international varieties.
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California
Emblem, Animo, Isabel Mondavi – from Napa Carneros, Hangtime, Oberon. Spellbound
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Spain
Palacios Remondo – superior wines from the Rioja Baja region of Italy in vineyards (550-650 meters above sea level) at the base of the Yergo Mountain (1100 m).
Vall Llach – Beautiful blends from Appellation DOQ Priorat.
Grupo Pesquera – the utterly lovely Tempranillo wines in Crianza, Reserva and Millenium from Alejandro Fernández. His wines are wonderful when released but can also age for many years.
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**Alejandro Fernández makes wine in central Spain using only the Tempranillo grape. And oh, what wines he makes! He’s from the old school – born in 1932 in the village of Pesquera de Duero, one of the places he still makes wine. He has been trusting his instincts since he learned the trade by working and watching. His instinct told him to keep replanting Tempranillo grapes near the banks and highlands of the Duero River in the early 1970s when everyone else was ripping out their vines to plant beetroot and cereal crops. And he’s never looked back.
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In 1982 he and his fellow winemaking pioneers co-founded the D.O. Ribera del Duero, and Alejandro moved into his modern winemaking facility that spring. He now cultivates his Tempranillo grapes across the four estates he owns. He and his four daughters produce in those bodegas many versions of naturally concentrated, elegant wines that are expressive in their crianza state and continue to mature and develop greatly with aging in the bottle.
Alejandro’s natural winemaking style includes some important techniques, including, among others:
  • Grapes receive a single pressing only with a pneumatic press (he sells secondary and tertiary pressed juice to distilleries).
  • Fermentation is done with indigenous yeasts; malolactic fermentation occurs in barrel.
  • To best preserve each wine’s aroma and flavor, none are subjected to cold stabilization, clarification or filtration, resulting in a bit of natural sediment in all bottles.
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Wines of Chile best-in-class awards 2017

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Cabernet Sauvignon grape cluster, shown by DNA...
Cabernet Sauvignon grape cluster, shown by DNA studies to be a cross of Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon blanc. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you’ve ever wondered how to choose a good wine from South America,  this holiday season would be a great time to try one or more. And there’s a new group here to help. The 14th Annual Wines of Chile Awards (AWOCA), a program that  underscores the excellence of Chile’s world class quality, was held recently in Washington, D.C. in honor of the U.S. being one of Chile’s most important markets.

The Chilean wine industry has undergone a revolution in quality and innovation as more producers than ever are now involved. The unique geographic conditions in Chile provide ideal terroir and microclimates for making wines of many types. Meanwhile, governmental agencies like ProChile and Fundación Imagen are helping the wine industry flourish in Chile. Consider these AWOCA winners as you look for the best wines from Chile:

The winners of the 14th Annual Wines of Chile Awards are:

  • Best Sparkling: Viña Undurraga, Undurraga Rosé Royal N/V
  • Best Sauvignon Blanc: Viña Haras de Pirque, Albaclara Sauvignon Blanc 2017
  • Best Other White: Viña Casas del Bosque, Gran Reserva Late Harvest Riesling 2015
  • Best Chardonnay: Luis Felipe Edwards, Marea Valle de Leyda Chardonnay 2016
  • Best Pinot Noir: San Pedro, 1865 Selected Vineyard Pinot Noir 2016
  • Best Syrah; Best in Show: Viña Casas Del Bosque, Gran Reserva Syrah 2015
  • Best Carignan/Secano: Luis Felipe Edwards, LFE100 CIEN Carignan 2012
  • Best Carménère $25 and over: San José de Apalta, Carménère Blue Label 2015
  • Best Other Red: Viña Valdivieso, Single Vineyard Cabernet Franc 2013
  • Best Red Blend: Viña Cousiño Macul, Lota 2011
  • Best Cabernet Sauvignon under $20: Viña Requingua, Puerto Viejo Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon 2016
  • Best Cabernet Sauvignon $20-$50: Viña Maipo, Protegido Cabernet Sauvignon 2014
  • Best Cabernet Sauvignon over $50; Best in Show: SANTA EMA, Catalina 2014

Wines of Chile is an organization committed to promoting the quality and image of Chilean wine throughout the world. It has offices in Santiago, London and New York, as well as representatives in Canada, Ireland and Denmark. Wines of Chile also works closely with ProChile to develop and offer promotional and educational programs in Asia, Latin America and Europe. Wines of Chile’s 86 member wineries belong to Vinos de Chile and represent 88 percent of Chile’s bottled wine exports. More information is available at www.winesofchile.org.

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Carnivale adds raw bar to its exotic food-drink-music mix

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Invited recently to experience Carnivale, we walked into the large venue at 702 W. Fulton St. in Chicago’s trendy and bustling West Loop. Immediately colorful lights inspired our vision and energetic Latin-fusion music warmed up our party parts. We got the definite feeling we were going to have a good time – and the goal of their staff members seems to be just that: do everything they can to make sure a good time is what you have.

What’s a party without music and live entertainment? At Carnivale scantily clad acrobatic artists perform at strategic locations around the dining area, including a long-blonde-haired mermaid waving her tail while suspended in a net above the tables and painted hard-body entertainers executing feats of skill or gyrating to the music.

The food and wine and cocktails are carefully curated. Our knowledgeable server, Jorge, who is also the restaurant’s sommelier, offered expert guidance in choosing dishes from the dinner menu and beverages that perfectly complemented them.

A new addition to Carnivale’s offerings is its extensive raw bar. Jorge recommended the raw-bar-for-two ($50) – a delightful collection of seafood goodies including poached shrimp, crab claw and half-lobster tail – cooked just right and served with several interesting sauce options in addition to fresh lemon. This dish – possibly one of the best values on the menu – was served dramatically in what looked like a professional toolbox that you open from the middle, the long way, to stepped sides. Nestled in the ice on the bottom were three dishes of Carnivale’s delicious and unique ceviches – generous for two to split. Hard to decide which we liked the best: shrimp,  blue crab, or mixto (shrimp, calamari, octopus and a delicious combination of slightly exotic touches like preserved lemon, sweet potato, cilantro and more).

After such a generous starter, it made sense to split Jorge’s next recommendations: the dry-aged prime ribeye ($49) and Hook’s cheddar potato gratin. Meat was nicely grilled and flavorful, though somewhat chewy, with a succulent wine reduction on the side. The potato gratin made a nice pairing. Good thing to split those, because the dessert Jorge suggested was irresistable – the Chocolate Dome ($9), made with white and dark chocolate mousse, strawberry sorbet and fresh strawberries. It was so visually appealing and so incredibly mouth-watering, most of it was gone before the photo got taken.

Since you can’t eat everything on the menu, when you visit Carnivale be sure to look around at other tables. See if you can spot a cotton candy dessert (complete with housemade caramel corn) or even one of their signature cotton candy cocktails. It’s just one more way to liven the party up. And don’t forget their Latin-inspired fusion brunch on weekends. And by the way, they have lots of space for private events – a great place for companies to put on a party or for you to put one on for friends and loved ones.

Whether you’re in the mood to party, or you want to get into the mood, Carnivale clearly stands ready to turn on party mode at all hours every day of the week. Contact them here for reservations or to find out more.

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Kobrand brings stunning Italian wines on U.S. tour

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https://www.crateandbarrel.com/swoon-carafe/s291781?&a=0&source=igodigital&cid=THANKS&dtm_em=171474dde920335dd4fad21b92834157&e=rgfwriter%40gmail.com&et_cid=628484&et_dos=9212017&et_rid=rgfwriter%40gmail.com&j=628484&jb=85479&l=33_HTML&mid=7200679&u=194336557
The best carafe for decanting – this “Swoon” carafe at Crate & Barrel

Kobrand Wine & Spirits, is a family-owned importing and marketing firm that’s been known since 1944 for its distinguished portfolio of hand-selected brands from virtually every major wine and spirits region of the world. Kobrand focuses on one thing – quality – in its collection of gems from New World and Old. In a recent showcase that began with our city and is traveling around the U.S., they brought an array of stunning, mostly luxury, wines to Chicago, each lovingly presented by either the owner or the winemaker. The collection was impressive enough to rival any grouping from anywhere in the world. Read more from President and CEO Robert T. DeRoose about Kobrand’s passion for finding great wines.

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Emilia Nardi - brings her fine Brunellos on Tour d'Italia
Emilia Nardi – brings her fine Brunellos on Tour d’Italia

Their recent Tour d’Italia took place at the 5-star Peninsula Hotel and featured wines from the major Italian wine-producing regions across the depth and breadth of Italy: Emilia-Romagna, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Veneto, Piedmont in the North, the more central regions of Tuscany and Umbria and the islands of Sicily and Sardinia. Guests were able to interact with the people most closely connected to these exceptional terroir-driven wines.

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Kobrand’s Italian winemakers or principals that are presenting their portfolios on this tour include the following:
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Colleen McKettrick: Tenuta San Guido
Niccolò Finizzola: Tenuta di Biserno
Giovanna Moretti: Tenuta Sette Ponti, Feudo Maccari
Emilia Nardi: Tenute Silvio Nardi
Giovanni Folonari: Tenuta di Nozzole, Tenute del Cabreo, Tenuta Campo al Mare, Tenuta La Fuga, Tenuta TorCalvano
Giacomo Boscaini: Masi Agricola
Michele Chiarlo: Michele Chiarlo
Alberto Medici: Medici ErmeteRoberto Pighin: Fernando Pighin & Figli
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Impossible to list all the superior-quality wines represented at this gathering. Any wine from one of these wineries is practically guarnateed to be a winner. Prices for all wines presented varied dramatically – from under $20 for a 2016 Pighin Sauvignon Friuli to well over $100 for the 2009 Masi Campolongo di Torbe Amarone Veneto. Below are a few that stood out and are worth considering for your cellar – or for the upcoming holidays, or just because you deserve them.
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Feudo Maccari. Multiple wines from Noto, Sicily, all presented by the tall and handsome winemaker Giovanna Moretti, dressed impeccably in an elegant sport coat and tie. He particularly welcomed attendees to taste and compare two different vintage years of the same wine – same grapes, same vinification, etc. – as a dramatic demonstration of how beautifully his wines age in the bottle. Feudo Maccari owner Antonio Moretti took over the Tenuta Sette Ponti vineyards from his father and than later purchased Poggio al Lupo in Maremma and then Feudo Maccari in Sicily.
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2013 Feudo Maccari SAIA, made of Nero d’Avola grapes from old bush vines – which produce almost 50% less than regular vines – this robust and luxurious Sicilian red comes from the founder of Tenuta Sette Ponti in Tuscany. Beautiful with roast meats and game. Good value at SRP ~$30.
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2014 Feudo Maccari MAHARIS, made with 100% Syrah grapes at SRP ~$47. Both wines get 90+ points from multiple reviewers, this win has balsamic notes mixed with cocoa and coffee.
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Giovanna also showed a delightfully rich white called Feudo Maccari GRILLO 2016 that would perfectly compliment a dish of pasta with salty fish or grilled fish. at SRP ~$16.
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Tenute Silvio Nardi. Owner Emilia Nardi, attired in deep emerald green that perfectly complemented her light blonde hair, spoke with love and reverence about the winemaking process she began learning from age 12 by working with her father. She spoke of the sun rising on the grapes in the vineyard he bought in 1962.  After her initiation into the business, she pursued an MBA and returned to become one of the few female leaders in Brunello. Her winery, Tenute Silvio Nardi, is among the oldest and most respected producers of legendary Brunello di Montalcino – the first bottle of which dates back to 1954. Two of her estates, Casale del Bosco and Manachiara Vineyards, are among the most coveted plots in Montalcino. Below are notes on three of her wines – all made with Sangiovese Grosso grapes – you should consider for special occasions or to treat yourself and a friend or two:
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2012 Tenute Silvio Nardi Brunello di Montalcino DOCG. A traditional Brunello of depth and complexity, with impressive structure and remarkable potential for aging. Intense, complex aromas of red fruits and spics with toasty oak notes. Silky texture, great finesse and profound flavors with velvety tannins. Impressive now and perfect for aging. SRP ~$48.
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2012 Tenute Silvio Nradi Manachiara Brunello di Montalcino DOCG. Clean, intense and complex aromas of rich, round ripe fruit with spice and floral notes. Deep flavors along with fresh acidity, solid structure and supple tannins. Long subtle finish. Enjoy it now, or cellar it for a few years. Either way, you’ll be delighted. SRP ~$75.
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2011 Tenute Silvio Nardi Poggio Doria Riserva Brunello di Montalcino DOCG. Pronounced aromas of ripe red fruits with spice and leather notes. Full mouthfeel and firm structure, with strong, suave and velvety tannins. Long lovely finish. SRP ~$86
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https://www.crateandbarrel.com/swoon-carafe/s291781?&a=0&source=igodigital&cid=THANKS&dtm_em=171474dde920335dd4fad21b92834157&e=rgfwriter%40gmail.com&et_cid=628484&et_dos=9212017&et_rid=rgfwriter%40gmail.com&j=628484&jb=85479&l=33_HTML&mid=7200679&u=194336557
Gorgeous “Swoon” carafe available at Crate & Barrel

It was also a joy to watch Emilia as she decanted and aerated her fine wines without any fancy gadgets. She upended the bottle of one of her fine vintages and held it at an angle against the inside of the neck of a beautiful decanter. The wine splashed vigorously against the glass as it flowed from bottle to container, even splashing slightly outside the vessel. Upon completing the decant, she poured a bit in her glass, sniffed with her educated nose and nodded to indicate the device-free aeration had achieved the desired result. Try this at home if you like – but you may want to use a lesser wine until you perfect the process!

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**BTW, Poggio means “top of a hill” in Italian.
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3 Sicilian wines under $20 for holiday meals

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It’s never too early to start thinking about wines you might like to serve with your holiday meals. The selection is endless, certainly, but recommendations can help you hone down the list of possibles. Based on some recent complimentary review tastings, here are three we can recommend for various occasions, including various upcoming holidays. Two Sicilian whites and one red:
Donnafugata Lighea - unique Zibibbo grape wine
Donnafugata Lighea – unique Zibibbo grape wine

Lighea 2016 Sicilia DOC Donnafugata. This is a truly unique taste in white wines. It’s made of Zibibbo grapes (also known as Muscat of Alexandria), and the vines are grown in hollows on low bush vines (notorious for lower yields than traditional). This vintage was grown in a relatively dry season with weather that wasn’t overly hot, so the winemakers were able to focus on the quality of the grapes without worrying about quantity. Lighea has a brilliant straw color with greenish tints, a nose of classic notes of orange blossom, saturn peaches and Mediterranean scrub. The aromas reflect exactly what you’ll taste on the palate along with a fresh mineral vein – and that’s why this unusual combination produces such a unique flavor. Delicious as an aperitif and good with first courses like seafood or a light soup. SRP ~$15-20.

Donnafugata SurSur - light and lovely Grillo white
Donnafugata SurSur – light and lovely Grillo white

SurSur 2016 Sicilia DOC Donnafugata. Made from the ubiquitous Sicilian grape, Grillo, this white wine has a fresh and fruity character and a bouquet of peaches, elderflowers and rosemary – so there’s a hint of savory that makes it lovely with seafood, vegetables and baked sturdy fish. Open it when you’re ready to serve and pour into medium-size tulip glasses to get the most out of the fruity aromas and the brilliant straw yellow color. Even the label, with its painting of a young girl running through the grass, makes you feel like you’re there with her, “listening to a thousand Sur Sur” (it means crickets). Nice value for an apertif at SRP ~$13.

Donnafugata Sedara red with Nero d'Avola and many other grapes
Donnafugata Sedara red with Nero d’Avola and many other grapes

Sedàra 2015 Sicilia DOC Donnafugata. Another of Sicily’s classic grapes, Nero d’Avola, is blended with Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah and other grapes here and crafted into a quality red wine suitable for everyday enjoyment or favorite family occasions. The dark berries and slight spice notes come out in a pleasantly dusky quality that makes this wine good for pairing with rich foods like barbequed meats, pizza, or even seared tuna or roast turkey. A complex, structured red that benefits from letting it breathe a while before you drink. SRP ~$15.

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3 unique wines to enhance your meals

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Sometimes you just have to taste to believe how unique and delicious a new wine can be. We received a few recently for review and were delighted to experience the distinctive features of each – a red and a white from Italy and a red from France.
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Marina Cvetic Merlot
Marina Cvetic Merlot

A beautiful red from Masciarelli called Marina Cvetic Merlot IGT Terre Aquilane, is made with Merlot grapes grown in the Chalky soils of Ancarano, Abruzzo, Italy. Aged 12 months in barriques, and 24 months in the bottle, the bouquet is full, intense and complex. Flavors are fruity, flowery, and spicy – particularly, ripe red berries, blackberries, dry flowers, violets, and vanilla. Serve this luscious creamy red with lamb, barbecued meats, game, and rich cheeses. SRP ~$24.

Chateau Greysac Cru Medoc Bourgeois
Chateau Greysac Cru Medoc Bourgeois

Château Greysac, Medoc Cru Bourgeois 2011 comes from the Medoc hamlet of Begadan, located north of St. Estephe. Originally built in the 1700s, the property first belonged to the late Baron Francois de Ginsburg. Today, the chateau’s characteristic style is one of great aromatic finesse combined with precise sumptuous fruit flavors that develop in elegance and complexity over time. A rich blend of 65% Merlot, 32% Cabernet Sauvignon, and 3% Petit Verdot, this wine is aged 12 months in oak with stirring on the lees for three months. A deep ruby garnet color with red berry flavors and subtle notes of spice and bell peppers. Serve with any meat, poultry, wild mushrooms or strong cheeses. SRP ~$24.

Pomino Bianco
Pomino Bianco

Frescobaldi Pomino Bianco 2016 DOC. Made with Chardonnay and Pinot Bianco grapes blended with small amounts of other complementary varieties from Tuscany, this white wine has a unique flavor and a delightful freshness. Matured four months in stainless steel and one month in the bottle, it has a straw-yellow clear color and a flowery nose – frangipani and jasmine aromas mixed with fruity notes of apricot and quince. In the glass, notice exotic scents of tropical fruit and fresh cardamom. The flavor is lively, with a balanced structure and persistent finish with a slight aftertaste of ripe raspberries. An easy-drinking white that’s delicious as an aperitif or with vegetarian antipasti or large fish such as salmon. A very good value at SRP~$13.

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Chicago hosts lovely Bordeaux wines

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Herbarium peek-a-boo walls at Bad Hunter - hosting Bordeaux wines in Chicago
Herbarium peek-a-boo walls at Bad Hunter – hosting Bordeaux wines in Chicago

It’s always a joy to have the winemakers of France come to Chicago, and particularly delightful to taste the wines of Bordeaux in our fair city. After their recent New York event, Somm’ Like It Bordeaux, Vins de Bordeaux held a tasting at The Herbarium at Bad Hunter that proved enlightening and enjoyable for industry experts and media.

As with many grape-growing lands, two rivers – River Garonne and Dordogne – flow through Bordeaux. One way to categorize their red wines is to note that those from the Left Banks tend to blend their local grapes with Merlot, while wines from the Right Banks tend to blend with Cabernet Sauvignon.
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Bordeaux wines come from 65 different appellations, many of which you’ll recognize: Cotes de Bordeaux (“cotes” denotes hillsides that overlook the right banks of the Garonne and the Dordogne Rivers), Saint-Emillion, Pomerol & Fronsac, Medoc and Graves.
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The Bordeaux region as a whole produces dry whites (11% of their production) that are fresh and vibrant with good natural acidity. Bordeaux sweet whites are made from grapes affected by botrytis. They’re medium- to full-bodied and are produced mainly in Sauternes and Barsac in the southern part of Bordeaux.
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Below are a few of the many standouts at the tasting:
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Whites:
Chateau Petit-Freylong, Cuvee Izzy 2015. Rich, stone fruit bubbly from Bordeaux made from early-picked Sauvignon Blanc, this was 5-star all the way. Importer: Sweiss Group, LLC. SPR ~$22.
Chateau de sours, La Source Blanc 2011. This blend of 80% Sauvignon Blanc and 20% Semillon will please nearly anyone. SRP $35.
Reds:
Domaines Baron de Rothschild (Lafite), Legende 2012. Beautiful blend of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon and the rest Merlot. Imported by Esprit du Vin. SRP $49.99
Chateau Lafitte Laujac 2011. Made from grapes grown in very well drained soils in the Medoc region, this one spent a full year in barrels. 60% Cabernet, 35% Merlot, 5% Petit Verdot. Lovely.
Rosés:
Chateau Maurac 2012. Blended from Cabernet and Merlot from the Haut-Medoc area and imported by Michael Corso Selections. SRP $29.99.
Chateau de Sours, Reserve de Sours sparkling Rosé. A lovely sparkling wine from Bordeaux made of 87% Merlot and 13% Cabernet and imported by Old Bridge Cellars. SRP ~$20.
Unique bar at Herbarium at Bad Hunter
Unique bar at Herbarium at Bad Hunter

For more information about the Bordeaux wine regions, read here.

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Patio pleasures at Trattoria Gianni

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Trattoria Gianni's charming enclosed patio
Trattoria Gianni’s charming enclosed patio
Sitting on a block of Halsted in Lincoln Park that’s also home to high-flying successes like Alinea and Boka can be a challenge for any restaurant. Trattoria Gianni, 1711 N. Halsted, takes it on as a comfortable Italian oasis that has the distinct summer advantage of a large, enclosed, charmingly decorated patio.
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On a recent press visit we sampled some of the restaurant’s signature dishes. Rice balls that were tender inside and deep-fried just enough to give a hint of crunch on the outside. Meatballs made with pork and veal. Pasta veggie primavera. Italian-dressed romaine and tomato salad with Italian bread. Italian food, filling and plentiful.

Prices are reasonable, and this is an ideal place to come before or after the theater – Steppenwolf Theatre is across the street down the block. Be forewarned that the air conditioning works much better in the front section of the restaurant; the hot day we were there it was uncomfortably warm in the back section. But if it’s a nice day, don’t hesitate to take advantage of the patio. This patio is beside the restaurant – not stuck out on the sidewalk as so many are these days – and runs the length of the building, so it’s roomy. A glass door opening to the patio allows servers a clear view of tables and easy access to patrons. Sadly, it was raining the day we visited so we didn’t get to experience it personally, but I can picture us enjoying some wine or a summer cocktail among the flowers and the twinkling lights.

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Moscato d’Asti will open your eyes

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Surprise: Moscato d’Asti from Italy’s Piedmont region is worlds away from what “moscato” meant to most American 20 years ago – which was generally an over-sweet wine without the balance of appropriate acidity. Just plain cloying to drink.
There are versions of Moscato being made in Sicily and other parts of Italy, but the magic of Moscato d’Asti comes from the strict regulations of the DOCG designation. No extra sugar can be added, for example. And fermentation must be natural, not from injected gas. Because standards are so strict, every year is declared a vintage.
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Today 4000 companies in Piedmont grow grapes on 27,000 acres of mostly hillsides to create the light, low-alcohol, floral white naturally sweet wine with a touch of bubbles. The natural fermentation sets it apart from the simplicity of Prosecco, which bears no comparison to the complexity of this Moscato d’Asti. Some say this Moscato has similarities to complex yet lightly sweet German wines like Riesling and Gewurtztraminer.
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Generally considered a fresh wine, you won’t find many older vintages of Moscato d’Asti. Though you might find a bottle here and there that has stood the test of time for a few years, up to 5 or so. Part of the reason for the freshness is that producers don’t bottle the wine until it’s been ordered. They actually use fine-tuned technology to maintain the fresh, non-alcoholic juice at 2 degrees below zero Celsius until it’s time to bottle. Once an order is placed,  winemakers gradually raise the temperature of the juice until fermentation sets in, then watch it carefully until the perlage – bubbles – are just right for the maker’s vision.
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Climate change is affecting how the Piedmont Moscato winemakers do their work. They are having to pick earlier and anticipate in the near future having to grow their grapes almost exclusively on the hillsides where it’s cooler than in the valley, has more light and cooler nights.
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Most of these winemakers suggest enjoying their wines as apertif or even as a midday refreshment. Remember the study that said office workers who consumed a glass of wine at lunch tended to perform better, come up with more creative solutions, and generally be in better moods? It’s true, people. Come on, live a little!
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Here are a few wines that struck a chord at this event:
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Saracco Moscato d’Asti DOP 2016. Surprisingly delicate, complex and slightly fizzy rather than bubbly. Fun to drink with dessert or alone, as a pleasant mid-day break. Remember – delicate bubbles, low alcohol (generally only 5%) and extremely aromatic. A treat.
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Coppo Moncalvino Moscato d’Asti DOCG 2016. Moscato represents one of the most important indigenous grapes to the Piedmont region. And Moscato d’Asti has higher acidity – to balance the natural sweetness – than almost any other sweet wine, which keeps the flavors interesting and complex. This particular wine is fresh and aromatic with floral notes and peach and pear overtones.
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Marenco Vini Scrapona Moscato d’Asti DOCG 2016. This wine has a heady combination of aromas – almost reminiscent of musk oil – that translate into a deliciously rich flavor. The winemaker said, “We are all about preserving the distinctive aromas of the Moscato grape.” One part of achieving that goal is to allow no irrigation; the wines are made with whatever moisture nature provides. This particular wine is substantial enough to pair well with a wide variety of foods: from tempura and spicy foods, to light cheeses, to desserts and fruits of multiple varieties.
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Vignaioli di Santo Stefano Moscato d’Asti DOCG 2016. A bouquet of elder flowers, lime and peach. A little sweeter than the others with a delicate rather than a bold aroma. Suggestions to pair: sweets, cakes and ice creams plus some cheese or fruits like figs or melons.
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La Caudrina Moscato d’Asti DOCG 2016. Aromatic with a delicate flower scent, sweet yet lightly acidic. Perfect for dessert, with dry bakery such as Panettone (a fruity bread) or Easter Coloma. Refreshing anytime as a low-alcohol option. Only 5% alcohol. Lively and pleasant.
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