Category Archives: wine

Wine wisdom from Matt Crafton of luxury Chateau Montelena wines

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Chateau Montelena comes to Chicago at Maple & Ash
Chateau Montelena comes to Chicago at Maple & Ash

Some wineries bring their wines to market via huge gatherings of trade and media reps, complete with educational seminars, panel presentations, slide shows, and so on. With luxury producers like Chateau Montelena, it’s more usual to showcase their wares by serving them in the conditions for which they’re designed – small groups that encourage conversation and allow the wines to reveal their true beauty over a shared meal of delicious food.

Winemaker Matt Crafton talks about Chateau Montelena
Winemaker Matt Crafton talks about Chateau Montelena

That’s the approach Matt Crafton, chief winemaker at Chateau Montelena in Napa Valley, takes when he brings a curated selection of his wines to a city. He works with local executive chefs to pair their creations and his with a deft and definitive touch. In Chicago recently, he worked with chefs at Maple & Ash, 8 W. Maple, to construct a menu ideally suited to the wines – perfect pairings for the luxury whites and reds he brought to represent the best of the Chateau’s small-production vineyard.

Crafton, who says he enjoys having his 7-, 5- and 1-year-old kids follow him around the vineyard, often checks his smartphone, even when he’s out of town, to see how the vines are faring. The winery has sensors all over the vineyard that constantly send stats about water levels to his phone. Those numbers tell him when the vines are being stressed – even before the leaves begin to show physical signs such as curling or turning – so that he can order countermeasures if needed.

Over a meal of meticulously paired and perfectly prepared dishes created by the chefs at avec Restaurant, 615 W. Randolph, Crafton generously shared a few of his thoughts and insights about wine in general and Chateau Montelena in particular.

Special points of his wine wisdom:

  • Be on the watch. The Bordeaux wine region in France has recently been spraying its vines with copper sulfate in order to control a mildew infestation. This is not good for the soil long term – and thus for the wines.
  • Food for thought: Seven percent of the entire human population is left-handed. In the wine making business, the share is forty percent.
  • Labeling a wine – or anything – “organic” is nearly meaningless in our current state of affairs. There are simply too few controls. Sustainable growing is, instead, the ideal for which we all should be striving.
  • Wine is a delicate custom expression of each terroir – and naturally varies according to the year’s weather and soil conditions. If you’re looking for the same experience every year in your beverage, drink beer.
  • When you want to age a wine, you’ll get a better result with 1.5-liter bottles than the usual 750 ml size. Why? Because with the same cork, you get twice the volume, which slows down the process.
  • Using an aerator is good, but it cannot remotely compare to actually aging a wine. Oak and grape skins contribute tannins. Cement and clay hold oxygen while keeping the fruit fresh. Aerators just add ambient air.
  • American oak is looser-grained and can contribute flavors like coconut, dill and vanilla. French oak is more subtle. Spanish wines, for example, use a lot of American oak and tend to have a vanilla aroma.
  • If you the big Italian red wines like Barolo but find yourself not enjoying somewhat lesser Italian reds, it may be you are not consuming them along with food – the experience for which they are specifically made.
Beautiful - Montelena Estate Cab 2005
Beautiful – Montelena Estate Cab 2005

Special points about Chateau Montelena:

  • Chateau Montelena was one of the California wineries that came crashing onto the world stage with the famous “Judgment of Paris” back in the 70s when Napa Valley wines, red and white, received top honors over France’s finest – as decided by French judges doing blind tastings.
  • Chateau Montelena sets aside 5 to 10% of every vintage of Chardonnay and Cabernet each year and cellars it so that customers who cannot or choose not to age a bottle on their own will be able five years hence to purchase one that shows off how well that vintage has aged in the bottle.
  • Their Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon (SRP ~$65), typically blended with Merlot or sometimes Cabernet Franc – is made to be approachable when young.
  • Their Chateau Montelena Estate Cabernet (SRP ~$175) is never blended with Merlot – because they don’t grow those grapes on the estate –  but sometimes with Petit Verdot. This gem takes time to reach its peak and will open up much more after a longer time in the bottle.
  • The estate consists of 100 acres behind the Chateau and is partly situated on two mountain ranges that each contribute a different kind of soil – one of volcanic ash and the other mineral-rich from having been under the sea.

Crafton said he likes to bring Chateau Montelena to others around the country in order to demonstrate what their values are. “We take our wines very seriously,” Crafton said. “But we try not to take ourselves too seriously. After all, it [making wine] is about making people happy.”

Some of the luxury wines he brought to Chicago included:

Happily, when you’re looking for that special wine you want to save for the future or that special wine you want to drink to celebrate a momentous or even just a festive occasion, you can frequently find Chateau Montelena wines at Binny’s, Mariano’s, and many small wine shops and restaurants in and around Chicago.

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Loire Valley Wines refresh and delight

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Spring to Loire 2019 Chicago at J. Parker Atrium
Spring to Loire 2019 Chicago at J. Parker Atrium

Want a wine that evokes gloriously fresh surroundings? The wines of the Loire Valley bring to mind a range of pleasant springs and mountain streams as well as gentle sun, lazy breezes and relaxed days. They come in a myriad styles – from dry to sweet and everything in between – and in all price ranges.

Jamel Freeman presents Spring to Loire seminars
Jamel Freeman presents Spring to Loire seminars

Recently, Jamel A. Freeman, wine director at the Bellemore Chicago, presented seminars at Spring to Loire 2019 in Chicago – facts, figures and stories about these lovely wines. He explained that Loire Valley wines are best known for crisp, dry, white wines, notably Sauvignon Blanc and aromatic Chenin Blancs. yet they also produce fruity red wines from Pinot Noir and Gamay grapes as well as earthy red wines from Cabernet Franc and Malbec. Not to mention their selection of dry and off-dry rosé, elegant sparklings and luscious sweet wines. All are known to be:

  • Moderate alcohol, refreshing acidity and minerality that make them ideal for pairing with foods.
  • Pure expressions of varietal and terroir unmasked by oak.
  • Excellent value.
Jamel presented three separate seminars. One on the Diversity of LV wines. A second on the Sauvignons of LV. And a third on LV sparklings. He also shared additional interesting facts and figures about Loire Valley and about wines in general. Herewith a few tidbits:
  • The balance of acid and fruit is a good indicator of how well a wine will continue to develop in the bottle – like a fruit ripening, a wine may be high in acid to begin with and then become  mellower and sweeter as it ages.
  • Loire Valley:
    • Is France’s #1 producer of white wines, and the #2 producer of rosés.
    • Is the #1 region for the number of AOC sparkling wines
    • Is the 3rd largest vineyard in France.
    • Has 51 appellations and denominations
    • Produces 320 million bottles per year.
  • Ever notice how Prosecco seems to go flat quickly? That’s because it’s produced by the bulk method. Loire Valley and other sparklings produced by methode traditionale are fermented a second time in the bottle – which results in longer-lasting bubbles.
  • Stress to vines develops complexity. Higher elevation means more acidity and more minerality.
  • Vouvray – which has become almost a generic name for sparklings from Loire Valley – is half as bubbly as champagne, but creamier than Cremant.
  • Chenin Blanc grapes are more aromatic than Charadonnay, but Chardonnay can be more easily manipulated because of its less powerful aromas.
Most of the wines Jamel presented are available at Binny’s. A few of the excellent wines showcased at the program are listed below. For more information about Loire Valley wines visit www.loirevalleywine.com/.
Sparklings
  • Vouvray NV, Domaine VIgneau-Chevreau. A sparkling with lots of flint, minerality. 100% Chenin Blanc from 25 year old grapes. Just delicious! SRP ~$23-26.
  • Jean-Francois Merieau Vouvray 2012. 80% Chenin Blanc, 20% Sauvignon Blanc. Seashell minerality and a nose of floral notes and white peaches. SRP ~$19.
Whites
  • Vincent Grall Sancerre 2017. This wine is the benchmark for Sauvignon Blanc in Loire Valley. Aged in oak or acadia wood. SRP ~$26.
  • Domaine Paul Buisse Touraine 2017. 100% Sauvignon Blanc. A lovely value-priced white with seashell minerality on the palate; sage, bell pepper and crushed chalk aromas SRP ~$13.
  • Vignobles Gibault Touraine-Chenonceaux 2017. 100% Sauvgnon Blanc. Long, slow fermentation pulls out the aromatics, and this wine features rich notes of pears. ~$21
  • Henry Pelle Menetou-Salon 2017. 100% Sauvignon Blanc. A nose of organic white peach blossoms, yellow apple flesh. Rich tasting white. SRP ~$23.
Reds
  • Sancerre 2016 Joseph Mellot. 100% Pinot Noir. Complex with a long finish. Similar in characteristics to Northern side of Burgundy.

Be sure to look for our next post on pairing Loire Valley wines with flowers!!

Any way you look at it, you’re almost guaranteed to have an enjoyable wine when you choose from the broad selection of Loire Valley Wines.
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Lovely Bordeaux and Burgundy wines visit Chicago

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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. Vins de Bordeaux held a tasting at Virtue Restaurant in Hyde Park that proved especially enlightening and enjoyable. As with many grape-growing lands that depend on rivers, two of them – River Garonne and the Dordogne – flow through Bordeaux. One way to categorize their red wines is to note that those from the Left Bank tend to blend more with Merlot, while wines from the Right Bank tend to blend more with Cabernet Sauvignon.
Wines at Somm Like It Bordeaux
Wines at Somm Like It Bordeaux

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-Emilion, Pomerol & Fronsac, Medoc and Graves. The region 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. 

By the way, if you’re ever confused about Bordeaux and Burgundy, read this from the Wine Spectator for a down-to-earth explanation. Below are a few of the many they showcased in Chicago in 2019:
 
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.
For more information about the Bordeaux wine regions, read here.
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Heritage Wine Cellars brings Boisset Collection highights to Chicago

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Quite wonderful, the variety of burgundies and Beaujolais wines produced from grapes that grow in very similar terroirs – found both along the left and right banks of the river valley, and up and down the length of Burgundy – as well as those grown in similar climate and soil conditions in parts of California. Similar terroirs, yet producing wines with remarkably distinct qualities that are easily identified by sommeliers – and clear enough to the rest of us when pointed out.

Recently Heritage Wine Cellars brought Chicagoans a “Tour de Terroir” that showcased these distinct qualities. The tour showcased selections of wines from the Boisset Collection at a lovely private event space at Sunda, where attendees enjoyed excellent finger fare to accompany the wines.

Boisset is a family-owned collection of historic and unique wineries bound together by a common cause: authentic, terroir-driven wines that are in harmony with their history, their future and the land and people essential to their existence. Their family includes wineries in some of the world’s preeminent terroir such as Cote d’Or, Beaujolais, Rhone Valley, California’s Russian River Valley and Napa Valley. And each house retains its unique history, identity and style, while still distinctively expressing their unique terroir.

Boisset was founded in 1961 by Jean-Claude and Claudine Boisset, then a young couple living in the heart of Burgundy. They gradually acquired vineyards and wineries on two continents and forged an identity as the leading wine producer in Burgundy. Now under the leadership of their son, Jean-Charles, Boisset welcomes and fosters the collaboration of France and America in a profound belief that sharing our knowledge and wisdom will deepen and enrich the world of wine and also increase appreciation and provide even more exposure for each region’s diversity and uniqueness.

You will know you are drinking a wine from the luxury Boisset collection when you choose from one of the following names: Pierreux, Momessin, J. Moreau & Fils, Bouchard Aine & Fils, Jean-Claude Boisset, Domaine de la Vougeraie and Domaine Henri Maire, and look for even more wineries on the Boisset website. Below are a few of the many wines that were remarkable in the recent Chicago  tasting, including two value-priced whites (a sparkling and a still – the last two in the listings).

REDS
Domaine de la Vougeraie
Nuits-St-Georges 1er Cru “Les Corvees Pagets” 2014 – SRP $108
Nuits-St-Georges “Clos de Thorey” Monopole 1er Cru 2015 – SRP $121
Vougeot “Clos du Prieure” Monopole 2015 – SRP $112

Mommessin
Moulin-a-Vent 2016 – SRP $23

WHITES
Bouchard Aine & Fils
Chassagne-Montrachet 1er cru 2017 – SRP $111

J. Moreau & Fils
Chablis “Valmur” Grand Cru 2017 – SRP $99
Chablis “Les Close” Grand Cru 2017 – SRP $99

Jean-Claude Boisset
Saint-Aubin “Sur Gamay” 1er Cru 2017 – SRP $66

Domaines Maire & Fils, Jura
Cotes e Jura Heritage Tradition 2018 – SRP $15
Sparkling: Cremant de Jura Brut Jurassique N/V – SRP $16.25

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Consider these wine gems from France, California, and Italy

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As we continue dealing with the raging contest between spring and the dregs of winter here in Chicago, now’s a perfect time to turn your thoughts to lovey libations. Herewith we present for your consideration a few items we’ve sampled recently.

Bouchard Pere et Fils recently brought to Chicago a broad array of beautiful Pinot Noirs from Burgundy. The selection represents the efforts of the tall, slender, sophisticated Cellar Master Frédéric Weber, who spoke with quiet glowing happiness of the making of the current vintage. “2017 was a vintage with good growing conditions where our decisions in the vineyard transformed it into a compelling vintage… A truly pleasurable vintage ready to enjoy now.” He also promised that all these wines will be available in the U.S. by April. There were several Binny’s scouts in attendance so chances are good they’ll be able to get you these wines. At the same event, guests sampled another brand from among the Henriot Maisons & Domaines, a variety of William Fevre white wines grown in an area near Burgundy. Herewith, a few of the many lovely wines from these two iconic vineyards:

Among the Bouchard Pere & Fils Pinot Noirs were selections from Villages (the lowest level of the Burgundian hillside), Premier Cru (next highest area), and Grand Cru (highest elevation). Noteworthy among the Villages selections of 100% Pinot Noir grapes were:

  • Santenay Côte de Beaune, a worthy base-level burgundy wine.
  • Vosne-Romanée Côte de Nuits. Elegant, velvety, with charm and great length.
  • Chambolle-Musigny, 2017. Grown in soils ideally suited to produce elegant wines; aged 13 months in oak.
  • Gevrey-Chambertin Côte de Nuits. This area has the highest concentration of Grand Cru reds. These are aged 13 months in oak and are known for strength and velvetiness.

Among the Premier Crus:

  • Beaune Gréve Vigne de l’Enfant Jésus (Domaine) – an exceptionally smooth wine, one of the stars at Bouchard Pere et Fils
  • Volnay Les Casillerets Côte de Beaune- beautifully smooth blending with gentle tannins
  • Volnay Taillepieds (Domaine) Côte de Beaune – again beautifully blended with soft tannins

And among the Grand Crus our favorite was:

  • Echézeaux Cote de Nuits

Consult the William Fevre website for more information about the delicate yet full-tasting Chablis wines Winemaster Weber brought to the party in Chicago. Truly a luscious collection.

Lucas & Lewellen Estate Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Valley View 2016. Santa Ynez Valley. 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7.5% Petit Verdot, 7.5% Malbec. The warm days and cool nights of the Santa Ynez Valley facilitate a long, gentle growing season, and grapes grown in the Valley View vineyard there make fine wines. This wine is carefully blended to produce a distinctive, layered taste of blackberry and fig jam on the palate with silky tannins and a long finish. It’s marvelous with meat, pasta or, basically, anything your heart desires. SRP ~$25

Tre Bicchieri 2019
Gambero Rosso Tre Bicchieri USA tour‘s recent stop in Chicago brought us a broad selection of lovely special Italian wines. Many stood out this year at the show which was held again in the beautiful spaces of the Bridgeport Arts Center. The exhibition is designed to let members of trade and media in various cities across the U.S. experience the wide variety of Italian wines that have reached the highest standards.

If you’re a fan of naturally sparkling wine, consider one showcased in this show from Lusvardi, Italy. While we here in the US grew up with “spumante” as something overly sweet and extremely basic, Lusvardi now makes a line of sophisticated bubblies, several of which are made with no added sugar. We liked the Lusvardi Brut Lambrusco Dell’Emilia IGP – dry but with just a little sugar added – that we tasted at the show. Every year Tre Bicchieri celebrates Italian wines that have gained the coveted “Three Glasses” designation from a large cadre of experienced judges. Another notable bubbly, somewhat sweeter but with no added sugar, was the red Senzafondo Lambrusco Dell’Emilia IGP. These wines are made from grapes grown on a small 35-acre family farm and vinified with love.

A couple of other excellent listings from “Tre Bicchieri” (Three Glasses) participants:

  • San Salvatore Pian di Stio, a lovely white wine from Campania, available in the US for ~$40.
  • Fattori Nicolucci Romagna Sangiovese Sup Predappio di Predappio V. del Generale Ris. 2015, another beautiful white wine grown on a family farm in Emilia Romagna.

Don’t know if you’d even be able to find them all, but in case you’re a huge fan and want some new resources for Italian wines, here’s the complete listing of producers for participating wines and wineries in the Gambero Rosso Tre Bicchieri USA tour. Have a wonderful time browsing!

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River Roast chef freely shares expertise

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RIver Roast Executive Chef Cedric Harden
RIver Roast Executive Chef Cedric Harden

Surprised and delighted to learn that River Roast, 315 N. LaSalle St., offers cooking classes. Well, more like cooking demos because you get to watch rather than participate. Besides the beautiful and eclectic decorations in the space, the great view of the river and the delicious foods you get to eat, one of the most positive things about these sessions is the fact that you get to ask River Roast Executive Chef Cedric Harden any cooking question you want (preferably related to the dish he’s preparing right in front of you – when you sit at the bar, which we highly recommend), and he gives you the straight dope  from his extensive professional experience.

Chef team Cedric and Eric
Chef team Cedric and Eric

Attending a recent class felt like the most fun you can have in downtown Chicago on a regular Saturday afternoon. That day Chef Eric Lees, Chef de Cuisine at Spiaggia, a sister restaurant in the Levy Group of fine establishments, was on hand to assist. He and Chef Cedric put on a truly down-to-earth demonstration of what it’s like to invent and to execute an original dish.

Chef's beautifully imagined surprise appetizer
Chef’s beautifully imagined surprise appetizer

It was pure pleasure watching the construction of the spring greens salad at this Cooking with Spring Ingredients session. Oh, and before the first course, the chef surprised us with an appetizer that wasn’t on the menu – a lovely concoction of salumi slices, wedges of fresh fig, and fresh arugula nestled atop a creamy puddle of locally made burrata. Delicious. Back to the spring salad. Have you heard of using shaved raw asparagus along with steamed asparagus tips together in a salad? It’s a cool idea that works very well, especially when dressed with a lovely handmade Green Goddess dressing. The freshness of all the flavors and the whole combination made all the students’ tongues happy. And that was just a single one of the many interesting ideas and tricks the chef gave his guests. He shared his knowledge generously, from talking about where to learn knife skills to explaining why and how to salt the water for pasta (you’ll be shocked to hear what he suggests!).

River Roast cooking class's fabulous chicken entree with rich pan sauce
River Roast cooking class’s fabulous chicken entree with rich pan sauce

Included in the price (~$65) you’ll be served a number of small cocktails/wines throughout the class. Just enough to give a pleasant buzz on a sunny Saturday afternoon. But it’ll undoubtedly work just as well on a cloudy one.

The winter series of cooking demos is finished now, and we are eagerly awaiting word on the new series. This is one of the most delightful ways to spend a Saturday afternoon that we can imagine. A bit of spirits, a lot of delicious food, and a generous helping of professional knowledge – a win-win in anybody’s book. Have already told friends about how much fun this was, and we can’t wait to get the new schedule.

 

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Fernández Family El Vinculo wines are all about quality

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Some Italian, South American and Spanish wine makers of old focused their attention on producing the most possible wine to sell – because the citizens of their countries loved wine and consumed it in large quantities as part of their everyday routines. These days, many of those same wineries have gone completely over to focusing on  high quality fine wines. The El Vinculo estate winery in Spain is one such vineyard.

The Fernández family is passionate about creating a legacy that reclaims the quality inherent in the heritage of D.O. LaMancha, despite the years during which quantity goals overshadowed quality. They make wines that call upon your highest spirit to appreciate them in full. Founding father Alejandro makes sure all the wines he produces at El Vinculo – ever since the estate began in 1999 – are unique in quality and class. He leases from selected growers of grape varieties that are indigenous to the terroirs of La Mancha. Below are brief descriptions of a few examples of wines produced to his rigorous standards.

2014 El Vinculo Alejairen
2014 El Vinculo Alejairen

El Vinculo Alejairen 2015 DO La Mancha. Made with 100% Airen and the only white wine made by the Fernandez family. This golden white wine has the subtleties and layers of flavor we ususally associate with a culinary masterpiece – yes, it’s so rich and full that it tastes almost like food. Look for rich, unctuous flavors of ripe apricot, brioche honeycomb, creme brulee and soft white flower notes in both the nose and the palate.

El Vinculo 2013 Crianza D.O. LaMancha. 100% Tempranillo. This uniquely intense wine boasts savory notes of spice and smoke along with plum and violet in the nose. Be aware of rich notes of ripe plums, toasted wood, fresh tobacco, barbeque spice and vanilla liquor – earthy and complex, with well-defined tannins and a persistent finish. Potent flavors and good acidity yield to cool sensations on the tongue.

2015 Condado de Haza Crianza
2015 Condado de Haza Crianza

Condado de Haza 2015 Crianza, D.O. Ribera del Duero. 100% estate-owned Tempranillo. Enjoy the intense balsamic and ripe fruit aromas as they morph into undertones of sweet spice that develop from the wine’s extended aging in neutral American oak. It is fresh but also fleshy, with round tannins and beautiful balance that lead to a very long finish.The weather this vintage produced superb quality in the grapes.

2014 Tinto Pesquera Crianza
2014 Tinto Pesquera Crianza

Tinto Pesquera 2014 Crianza, D.O. Ribera del Duero. 100% estate-owned Tempranillo. Burgundy in color with a soft fuchsia rim, this soft, elegant wine offers aromas of red fruit, candied apples, vanilla and nutmeg. It’s silky on the mid-palate with its well-rounded tannins and satisfies the most demanding palates with its long velvety finish. Enjoy it now, or lay it down to for up to several years.

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Susana Balbo performs wine magic in Mendoza, Argentina

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Susana Balbo rosé
Susana Balbo rosé
BenMarco Cabernet Sauvignon
BenMarco Cabernet Sauvignon

Susana Balbo turns the rich terroirs of Mendoza, Argentina, into her personal palate for creating fine wines of all varieties. From whites and rosés to reds, these wines are made with deft yet powerful touches that make them standout choices for entertaining, gifting or simply enjoying at home. Try some of these for your next party – wherever it might take place.

Susana Balbo Signature Rosé 2018. 60% Malbec and 40% Pinot Noir. Almost impossibly luscious. Hard to believe it’s a rose – but then roses have become all the rage these days. And this one is right up there with the nicest. Elegant salmon color with a delicate nose of floral with aromas of strawberry and cherry. Fresh, juicy acidity pairs with strawberry and red currant flavors.Nicely balanced and well structured. Great by itself or paired with smoked salmon, Asian food, grilled white meats and hard cheeses.

Susana Balbo Signature Brioso White Blend 2017. 45% Semillon, 30% Torrontes, 25% Sauvignon Blanc.Aged 4 months in first-use French oak barrels and 40% second-use. Floral and citrus aromas with hints of resh grass, white fruits and orange. Tastes of flowers, fresh and fruity, combine beautifully with the smooth oak ageing. Persistent finish with nice minerality. Great potential for aging. Pair with fish, rabbit, Asian food and hot sauces. Very nice.

Susana Balbo Signature Brioso 2016. 53% Cabernet Sauvignon, 24% Cabernet Franc, 16% Malbec, 7% Petit Verdot. Deep, bright ruby red in color, this wine has strong tannins with its sweet red and black fruit and subtle oak flavors. Aged 15 months in 100% new French oak barrels. The elegant florality of Cabernet gets additional flavor and complexity from the other grapes. Fine and fresh finish with excellent ageing potential. Serve with beef, pork, lamb, squab, quail and duck. Highly enjoyable.

Under Susana Balbo’s sister (brother?) label, BenMarco, come these delicious options:

BenMarco Cabernet Sauvignon 2016. 100% Cabernet Sauvignon, aged 11 months in 100% second-use French oak. Grown in the rich, alluvial soils in Los Arboles, Uco Valley. the grapes gives this wine a rich concentration along with its floral notes. On the palate, black fruits, black pepper and cassis balance with fine-grained tannins. Serve with beef, sausages, veal, rabbit, medium-strong cheeses and meat pasta sauces. Utterly delicious!

BenMarco Expresivo 2016. 75% Malbec, 25% Cabernet Franc. Aged 14 months in 100% new French oak barrels. Chalky alluvial soils in Gualtailary, Uco Valley, where BenMarco grows these grapes, yield a wine with deep, bright ruby color and notes of chalk, earth, floral, peppercorn and tree fruits. Ultrfine tannins and great ageability. Enjoy with grilled meat, veal, medium-strong cheese and spicy sauces. Wonderful wine.

BenMarco Malbec 2016. 100% Malbec. 11 months in second-use French oak. Grown in sandy loam and rocky soils, the grapes must struggle and thus assure the complexity of this wine with aromas of fresh black fruits and hints of violets. Great balance with fine tannins and just enough acidity to lift the wine and add to the length of the finish. Complements beef, sausages, spiced or grilled pork, medium-strong cheese and meat-based pasta sauces. Excellent!

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Association President tells passionate story of Sonoma County Winegrowers

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Map of Sonoma County wine region
Map of Sonoma County wine region

California was the original US player in the global wine market. And now individual regions, just as in France, have become stars on their own. Everyone knows about Napa Valley. And everyone has heard of Sonoma – in fact, many say the two in the same breath, “Napa-Sonoma” to describe the richest wine terroirs in the state. And lately, Sonoma County – roughly 1700 square miles that is home to about half a million people – is taking pride of place as a truly innovative leader in the wine world.

Sustainability is a question on everyone’s mind, especially in these days of increasing global warming, and Sonoma County Winegrowers are behind that concept in spirit and in fact, in no small measure because of their trade association president. This dynamic woman, Karissa Kruse, came to Chicago recently to talk about the exciting news going on in their region.

Karissa Kruse in her vineyard mode
Karissa Kruse in her vineyard mode

Kruse is a petite blonde beauty with the education, experience and passion to make her the ideal flag carrier for Sonoma County Wine Growers. She used to be a Chicagoan and still loves to visit, but has now gone completely over to the California wine country lifestyle. She is passionate about helping the members of her association become more effective at sustainable growing and helping make wine an even more powerful force for good in the world.

Hosting a group of trade and media at a beautiful semi-private dining space at GT Prime Steakhouse, the trade president glowed as she talked about the exciting initiatives she’s helped spearhead on behalf of Sonoma County Wine Growers. One of those is the move to have every single vineyard in Sonoma County be certified a sustainable growth vineyard by 2019. This will be the first entire region to be certified in the United States and possibly in the world. Sustainable farming requires a commitment – of faith and of resources – to make it happen and keep it going. Kruse was a driving force in getting the wine growers to understand how critical it is to make that commitment in spite of what might appear to be insurmountable obstacles like cost.

Many compliments to the serving staff and the culinary team at GT Prime steakhouse where Sonoma Winegrowers presented their wines with a carefully curated selection of dishes. The Dutton Estate 2017 Kylie’s Cuvee Sauvignon Blanc from the Russian River area (just grapefruity enough, yet much smoother than a typical New Zealand SV), and the sustainably grown Lynmar Estate 2016 Quail Hill Chardonnary were delectable with all the first course choices, which included Tuna Tartare, House Gem Salad (strawberries, snap peas, manchdgo) and a Kale Salad with sweet cherry tomatoes, brioche croutons and white anchovies).

The second course choices were Prme Beef Tenderloin, Halibut with lobster, fennel and corn, or Roasted Green Circle Chicken Breast with chipotle buttermilk, cucumber and onion rings. Along with the entree GT offered shared sides of Shishito & corn with parmesan sauce, lime and paprika, French-style mashed potatoes with chives and olio verde, and Brussels Sprouts with maple butter, prosciutto and peppercorn. All this was paired with two Sonoma reds.

The final course, a lovely selection of cheeses from Michigan, Wisconsin and France, was beautifully complemented by the Ridge 2016 Pagani Ranch Zinfandel.

Altogether, an uplifting evening of California Sonoma winemaker passion and energy shared with winelovers in Chicago – another perfect pairing.

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Stemmari has sexy ways with Nero d’Avola

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Lucio showcases Stemmari wines in Chicago
Stemmari wines in Chicago

Stemmari is one of the premier wine brands in Sicily today. And their winemaker Lucio Matricardi, PhD, came to Chicago recently to share some of the exciting new ways he is using Sicily’s indigenous Nero d’Avola grape to make powerful wines, including Stemmari’s new creation, Hedonis Riserva Sicilia DOC 2015.

Tall and handsome, with the quintessential charm for which Italian men are famous, Lucio revealed some of the secrets of the work he is doing for Stemmari. Speaking to a group of members of Chicago’s trade and media at Fig & Olive’s delightful semi-private dining space, Lucio explained that Nero d’Avola, the single most important grape in Sicily – grown on 50,000 acres of the island – is quite different from those associated with areas like Tuscany – e.g., Sangiovese, Italy’s biggest-selling grape and the principal ingredient in Chianti Classico. Lucio explained that the Nero d’Avola grape suffers in the dry wind conditions of Sicilian vineyards and then expresses itself with vigor.

Stemmari’s basic Nero d’Avola 2016 vintage is deep red with violet pinpoints and has a bouquet of wild strawberries in the forest with hints of currants and pomegranate. The flavor is fruity, soft and velvety. And the Nero d’Avola grape takes very well to blending. For example, Lucio makes a wonderfully rich and structured wine called Cantodoro. He brought along samples of the 2015 vintage of this blend of 80% Nero d’Avola and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon (~$16). He says adding Cab grapes grown in the same soil as the Nero d’Avola complements and gives muscle or backbone to the Nero d’Avola. In this case, the Cab mix gives a deliciously full and structured mouth feel, flavor and finish. Lucio makes many a fresh and elegant wine for Stemmari, including a Pinot Grigio, a mango-and-papaya scented Grillo (another extremely popular Sicilian grape that Stemmari brought back to prominence for its floral, fruit and nut flavors with a hint of salinity ~$10), a Cabernet Sauvignon, a Pinot Noir, a Moscato, a lovely, fresh and fragrant Rosé Terre Siciliane IGT (~$10) – the 2017 is perfect with food, even spicy meats.

Hedonis Riserva beauty
Hedonis Riserva beauty

And introducing one of his most impressive accomplishments, Lucio presented the new Riserva that artfully combines the strengths of both Nero d’Avola and Cabernet sauvignon grapes – Stemmari Hedonis Riserva 2015 (~$50). Winemaker notes:

Color: Intense ruby red with hints of violet. The resulting aromatic profile of Hedonis is a bountiful and deeply complex expression with hints of dried red fruits, anise and sweet spices, notes of almond, vanilla and tobacco resulting from aging in wood. There is a profound structure on the palate along with a velvety and juicy attack, finishing with soft and sweet tannins.

This  premium red blend is a showstopper in the Italian red category.

And while we’re at it, let us not forget to compliment the serving staff and the culinary team at Fig & Olive where Stemmari held this lovely introduction of its wines. Delicious bites and warm, gracious service all round.

Affordable wines that complement your meals and showcase for you the unique beauty of the Sicilian marriage of soil and vine. Perfect for gift giving or treating yourself anytime.

Follow @StemmariWine and use hashtags #LiveSicilianly, #PursueHedonis.

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