Doesn’t the idea of sitting down to a comforting pasta meal and a glass of deep red wine sound mouth-watering? What if you could do that – at home – in less than 5 minutes?
Well, as we all know, it only takes a minute to open a bottle of wine, and we have a recommendation for you if you love the structure and depth of a bold red wine – Ravage Cabernet Sauvignon. You’ll taste dark, luscious berries rounded out with vanilla and mocha for a beautiful balance of flavors. Color is intense. Feeling could be described as romantic or assertive, depending on your frame of mind. Powerful complement to braised meats; rich and striking on its own. It made us feel like we were in an exotic country. You can buy it in dozens of retail locations in Chicago and elsewhere. And, not surprisingly, it goes beautifully with pasta dishes.
Imagine this: restaurant-quality cooked pasta in a tasty marinara sauce that you can just heat and serve. Yes, it is possible. We were pleased to sample Victoria Chef Collection Penne Marinara and found the pasta cooked to perfection (not mushy or overcooked).
The sauce was delicious, but a little sweet for our taste. They don’t add any sugar, but they do use apple juice concentrate. However, we were pleased to find that adding a tablespoon of ricotta cheese balanced that bit of extra sweetness to our satisfaction. Really surprising to taste this kind of quality from a jar. No refrigeration necessary until after the jar is opened. Victoria Chef Collection’s philosophy is Ingredients Come First™. Their recipes are based on the same ones their founding family brought with them from Italy to Brooklyn. Happily, the list of ingredients has nothing you wouldn’t put in your own pasta sauce. Check out VIctoria’s wide variety of authentic Italian sauces and delicacies.
Now’s the time to plan your celebrating and gifting, and here at FoodandDrinkChicago we’re happy to help by pointing out some delicious yet affordable special occasion wines. Happily, Niven Family Wine Estates recently introduced us to three of their wines – each with a completely different and unique character – that are perfect for holiday entertaining or gift giving. Sampling these wines is a bit like tasting around the world without leaving your California armchair. And by the way, check out the Niven Family Wines wine club. Several options for treating yourself or for giving a membership as a gift for wine-loving friends and family.
Tangent Albariño 2015. The Spanish Albariño grape is the varietal typical of the Rias Baixas region in Galicia. Grown for this wine on the rolling slopes of Edna Valley California, the result here is a lovely, well-balanced white that is SIP™ (Sustainable in Practice) certified sustainably grown. The nearby ocean ensures cool growing seasons with even climate. “Pure and vibrant with a slight salty characteristic, it starts with Mandarin orange and tangerine on the nose and goes on that way through the finish. A round mouthfeel is balanced by a slightly crisp acid structure.” Delicious as an aperitif and paired with most seafoods and especially with oysters and clams. 13.5% alc. SRP ~$17.
Zocker Grüner Veltliner 2015. Zocker is a winery that reflects its name – Zocker being the Austrian word for gamble. It’s the latest endeavor of the Niven Family Wine Estates on their Zocker vineyard in Central Coast California where their veteran French winemaker Christian Roguenant makes unconventional wines exclusively from the white varietal grapes known as Grüner Veltliner and Riesling. This 2015 is rich and round with great acid structure, which some call steely, and with a definite minerality. Slightly earthy, it has a strong white pepper note with flavors of ripe melon and fruit cocktail. A lovely aperitif or a delicious counterpoint to creamy cheeses or sauces. 13.5% alc. SRP ~$20.
True Myth Cabernet Sauvignon 2014. Grown in Paso Robles, the grapes for this classic red fully reflect the region’s characteristic polished aromas – blackberry, cherry and vanilla – and make a rich, smooth yet approachable wine that can age for years in your cellar. Or drink it now and immerse yourself in the flavors of dark red fruits and black currants with hints of pepper, cocoa powder and caramelized oak. A bold wine that’s a worthy accompaniment to red meats and pairs well with smoky and grilled flavors. 14.5% alc. SRP ~$24.
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.
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:
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.
**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.
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.
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.
Dreaming Tree is a winery that loves the environment as much as it loves making wine. Not only are their wines delicious values at well under $20, but they’re also bottled in lightweight bottles that are manufactured with clean-burning natural gas. Labels are made with 100% recycled paper, using black ink printing—which means no bleach is used and fewer toxins and heavy metals are released into the earth. And, get this, even Dreaming Tree’s corks are recyclable. All of which are good reasons to try these wines, but then there’s the taste! Below are tasting notes on some of their most popular vintages. Think green. Think delicious. Think value.
Oh, and if you’re into music, the guy behind the wines is also the guy in front of the Dave Matthews Band. And he partnered up for Dreaming Tree with New Zealand native Sean McKenzie – winemaker par excellence for his entire lifetime. Their goal is to make wines that preserve the true terroir and style of California’s fabulous growing regions.
And now the Band’s professional chef, Fiona Bohane, creates recipes that pair with the wines and use local ingredients everywhere they travel. Check out some of the cool recipes here.
Dreaming Tree Crush 2014. Blended of California’s finest varieties, this red wine gives you raspberry jam and vanilla oak characters on the nose. The flavors remind you of juicy mixed berries, and the wine’s tannins are full, yet soft and approachable. A robust red wine that goes great with spicy foods like barbecue ribs, Vietnamese-style pork sandwiches, or vegetarian stuffed poblano peppers. Worth every penny. SRP ~$15
Dreaming Tree Sauvignon Blanc 2015. Lovely California-style SV, meaning its grapefruit zing is moderate and mellow as opposed to sharp. Winemaker notes: “fresh and juicy with tropical fruit aromas of passion fruit and kiwi. Finishing crisp and clean with hints of grapefruit and zesty lime.” Delicious as an aperitif, or serve it with fish, seafood or zesty Mexican food. ¡Olé! SRP ~$15
And then there’s Dreaming Tree Chardonnay – delicious with grilled seafood, goat cheese, herb-roasted chicken, or fruit/ricotta/arugula salad. And their luscious, award-winning Dreaming Tree Cabernet Sauvignon – aromas of berries, cherries and cassis, wraped in toasted caramel with soft, mouth-filling tannins. Try it with grilled flank steak, ribs or vegetable kebobs.
Environmentally conscious, sustainably grown, delicious wines at affordable prices and a good story to tell about them. Just in time for Mom, Dad or Grad gifts. Available at Walgreens, Target and lots of other locations around Chicago.
Cortes de Cima Tinto 2012. Garnet with red highlights, this wine has spicy, savory aromas with vanilla notes. Sweet, savory fruit flavors with an elegant palate. Complex taste with long finish. SRP ~$23
Barao de Vilar Feuerheerds 2013. This lightly sweet dessert wine is a rich raisin color with upfront floral aromas and then notes of prune, vanilla, and milk chocolate. Delicious and well, well worth the price at SRP ~$14.
Follies by Aveleda 2013 – Blend is a combination of native Touriga Nacional and Cabernet Sauvignon grapes. Winemaker notes: Deep ruby color with intense aromas of berry, oak and vanilla. A well-balanced body with supple tannins resulting in an elegant whole. Ideal with spicy meat dishes, wild mushroom risotto, or serve as an aperitif with cheeses and nuts. Lovely for any price, but a true value wine at SRP ~$8.
Recent tastings from wide-flung areas of the world have yielded a fresh list of possibilities for your holiday edification and enjoyment. Consider one of these under-$20 selections for your holiday celebrations.
California’s Little Black Dress label
We love it when wineries come up with fun names for their brands. Take, for example, the label “Little Black Dress” (LBD). Stirs up visions of sexy intrigue or at least something elegant, doesn’t it? Recently sampled a couple of their reds and enjoyed them.
1. Diva Red. Winemaker notes: Decadent notes of dark plum, cocoa and caramel leading to a finish accented by hints of cinnamon and chocolate-dipped strawberries. We found it a pleasant medium-bodied red blend that sits comfortably on the palate, works pleasantly on the nose and goes nicely with food of many kinds. Well worth a try at SRP ~$8.
2. Little Black Dress Cabernet Sauvignon. Consider this value-priced rich red for your everyday wine. Winemaker notes: Rich aromas of dark berries and toasted oak, a hint of vanilla spice and a lasting finish. Again, well worth trying at an SRP of ~$10.
Nero d’Avola elegance from Sicilia DOC
Speaking of “little black,” consider the Nero d’Avola grape – indigenous to Sicily. For centuries Sicily has been a benchmark for the global wine market and this grape variety is an icon of Sicilian enology. Today a new generation of winemakers have lifted the “little black grape” to new heights of elegance and drinkability.
3. Nero d’Avola Feudo Maccari Saia 2011 Sicilia DOC. This Saia has lush, deep aromas and flavors of dark and sour red cherries, spearmint, spice and oak. Palate flavors are velvety, plush, and concentrated, balanced by fine acidity and ripe, sweet tannins, before a long finish. A superb match for full-flavored meats and game, especially stews and roasts. Saia, like all these wines, balances freshness with the ability to evolve over time. SRP ~$20
Lovely Pinot Grigio from Northern Italy 4. Luna Nuda (Naked Moon) Pinot Grigio Vigneti delle Dolomiti IGT 2015. Born in the perfect-for-Pinot-Grigio clay soils atop the saw-tooth ridges, snow-capped peaks, and alpine meadows studded with glittering waterfalls in Alto Adige, this wine of straw-yellow with green lusters brings rich aromas of fruits like pears and apples. Well-balanced and structured, the taste is dry and smooth with a pleasing minerality. Perfect for pairing with lighter foods and fresh-water fish. At 12.5% alc., this is a sturdy white wine that makes a nice aperitif, too. SRP ~$15
JaM Cellars “breakfast” trio of wines
Butter, Toast and Jam sounds like a breakfast menu, but it’s actually the names of three different wines – one red and two whites – that come from JaM Cellars. These are a cut above your everyday house wines and guaranteed to make you and your guests feel special. Perfect to go with your Thanksgiving or other holiday meals. JaM Cellars wines are available nationwide and through the website at http://www.jamcellars.com.
5. 2015 Butter Chardonnay offers ripe, stone fruit and baked-lemon aromas and is cold fermented to rich creaminess, aged in a blend of oak giving this wine a lovely, long, vanilla finish. 14.89% Alc. by vol. SRP ~$15
6. 2014 JaM Cabernet Sauvignon has soft, dark berries and plums on the nose and palate, and is aged in new oak to smooth and round the wine, adding a touch of vanilla. 15.1% Alc. by vol. SRP ~$20
BONUS: Non-vintage (NV) Toast Sparkling, made with traditional méthode Champenoise techniques, offers juicy aromas of honeydew, white peach and orange blossom followed by tastes of tropical pineapple and honeydew combined with a light toastiness. It’s light at 12.5% Alc. and, okay, at $24.99 a little over the headline-promise of $20/bottle. But we didn’t count it in the original 7, so think of it as a bonus recommendation.
South African sparkling wine
Did you know that South Africa is among the many nations that are becoming producers of respectable wines these days? Had a chance recently to review a couple of sparklings from that region. One in particular seemed a worthy addition to a list of decent possibles for holiday meals – or any time you’re in the mood for some bubbles.
7. Boschendal Pinot Noir Chardonnay Brut NV. This sparkling wine, made with Methode Cap Classique (South Africa’s version of the traditional Champagne method) is a clear golden color with a fine effervescence. Aromas of fresh lemon fruits along with a creamy flavor make it a pleasant, value-priced bubbly that’s more complex than many similarly priced Proseccos and will make an equally nice accompaniment to lighter foods and even desserts. SRP ~$11
The Antinori family believes in tradition – and innovation, too. They introduced the Cabernet grape to Italy, in a spot where many other grape varieties can’t grow, and began experimenting with blending Cabernet with Italian grapes. The resulting wines have been exceptional, and now they are spreading the word.
She’s tall and slender, full of energy, and passionate about her mission. She is Alessia, the youngest daughter in the Antinori vintner family – the winemaker who travels the world alone and with her father, Marchesi. The family is the 26th generation to grow wines in Italy and now in Napa Valley. Together they imbibe lessons from cultures on several continents, the better to enrich their own winemaking wisdom. Alessia and her two sisters work closely with their father to manage the three Antinori wine estates in Italy and in America.
Alessia’s shoulder length, softly wavy brown hair moves in time to her graceful arm movements as she nods to emphasize her words. She is introducing five of the Antinori wines to a group of 60 people in Chicago. The Antinori wines being introduced are all made with some percentage of Cabernet Sauvignon grapes, for that is the theme of the evening: The Antinori Family’s Fascination with Cabernet around the World. Each wine has a subtle complexity along with delicacy and elegance in its blending. Several of them (see list below) are extraordinarily subtle and refined on the palate, especially the only-made-in-exceptional-years 2011 Solaia Toscana, made from grapes grown in a small southwest-facing vineyard next to their Tignanello vineyard in the Chianti Classico area of Italy.
As Niccolo Maltinti, U.S. Commercial Director and Brand Ambassador, said about this Solaia, “This is not a Sophia-Loren-type wine. It’s one of the most elegant wines, but with a backbone. You want to spend time with it and discover it slowly.” He said the poor, rocky soil here, “makes Cabernet Sauvignon grapes speak with an Italian accent.”
Alessia speaks warmly about the commitment to quality and the passion with which her family has been making wines for 600 years. She says these family values are transmitted seamlessly from generation to generation. Since her great-grandmother was American, her family has always felt a pull towards the United States – so it only made sense when her father visited Napa Valley that he would fall in love. He promptly bought 500 acres, built himself a home (an American style home built by an Italian architect) and went to work creating their estate vineyards.
The Cabernet event, held in the Florentine Room of the J.W. Marriott Chicago, paired a number of Antinori wines with fabulous Italian food creations, among them osso bucco with saffron risotto, braised lamb lasagna, and from Coco Pazzo, handmade venison ravioli with black truffle and wine reduction.
Alessia gives away her secret – the wine she drinks every day at home is their il Bruciato, a full-bodied red made of 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot and 15% Syrah. It’s wonderfully red and deep and pairs perfectly with many types of foods. And I was pleased to learn that the wine I liked so much that evening – and had to go back for more of – turned out to be her favorite, il Bruciato.
Barry Devine, the wine manager at Fleming’s Steakhouse in Lincolnshire, said he already carries several Antinori estate wines. He considers “Guado al Tasso Il Bruciato, the second label of the winery, and the Tormaresca Neprica (a blend of Negroamaro, Primativo, and Cabernet Sauvignon) fine examples of elegant wines at great value.” He said another great wine and great value is their Villa Antinori Toscana (Sangiovese, Cabernet, Merlot and Syrah blend). In addition to being “great values, these wines are good representatives of their respective areas,” Barry said, and generally score in the 90 point range in respected wine publications.
I asked Alessia a little about herself. She said realized when she was a teenager that she had a choice of where to go in life. Her father never forced her to go into the business, she said. But when she asked her father if she should go for art history or go to Milan to learn winemaking, he unhesitatingly said, “Go to Milan!” Though she knows she could have done something else, she loves the profession she has committed her life to.
When asked if it was unusual today for women to be winemakers, she said, “No, not today. But 20 years ago when I started, I was one of only two women in a class with 30 guys.“
She spoke of how being a family-owned winery makes a difference. I asked her to elaborate. “How our family succeeded – it takes humility, open-mindedness, culture, passion, and curiosity. With the family transmitting the culture and commitment from generation to generation, it assures a continuing sense of responsibility. Otherwise people change, and they don’t have the same commitment.” She spoke of how pleasant it is to be involved with nature. “It took 26 generations to build this company,” she said. “It can take only one moment to destroy it. Everything depends on how you behave, how you transmit the values and ideals to the future generations.“ These values are natural in a family-owned wine business, said Alessia, but they must be tended constantly. “When I speak at events like this, that’s how I show my passion.”
On promoting their wines: “My father was a pioneer in the 1970s in discovering new areas, and in Italy we went to other cities to bring our wines and to promote wine drinking in general.” About traveling alone to India and Asia she said, “It was very challenging. I learned about their traditions, culture – very similar to ours – their religious commitments, history, and ancient culture. Also, no one knew me; I could be myself as a person.”
What about here in the US? “I learned about the huge market potential of the U.S., and that everyone focuses on the main cities. In the 50s and 60s it was more about whiskey and beer in the US. There is a huge revolution here, enormous. In Napa Valley we learned a great deal about using Cabernet Sauvignon grapes.”
Alessia’s favorite everyday Antinori wine, il Bruciato, is available at Binny’s and sold in Eataly by the glass.