Category Archives: wine

Antinori embraces Cabernet Sauvignon for Italian wines

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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.

Copyright Jeff Schear 2014 All Right Reserved
Alessia and Niccolo share their passion for Antinori wines

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.

Copyright Jeff Schear 2014 All Right Reserved
Only in exceptional years – Solaia Toscana

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.

Copyright Jeff Schear 2014 All Right Reserved
Coco Pazzo’s fabulous venison ravioli with black truffle and wine reduction

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.

Copyright Jeff Schear 2014 All Right Reserved
Alessia’s – and my! – favorite il Bruciato

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.

Copyright Jeff Schear 2014 All Right Reserved
Alessia, sharing her enthusiasm

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.

Antinori Cabernet wines:

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Cool tips n tricks for Halloween at home – plus a dozen Chicago Halloween parties

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Nadia G tells it like it is for Halloween parties
Nadia G tells it like it is for Halloween parties

Nadia G., the popular Food Network show host, was writing comedy at an early age, has moved up fast in the world of TV and happily offers her own take on how to “do” Halloween right. Following are her top party ideas and Halloween recipes that will make your party the hot spot Halloween favorite.

  1. Try decorating your buffet with genuine old stuff – like broken dolls you find at a thrift store. Headless,  armless, blackened eyes, whatever.
  2. Present your party spread on a bloodstained tablecloth! Get your hands on a white sheet and have some gruesome fun staining it with theatrical blood handprints and splatters!
  3. Lighting is everything, so replace your crummy lightbulbs with red ones, and light lots of black candles to create a spooky (and sexy) ambiance.
  4. Fill a surgical glove with water and freeze, use this creepy
    Nadia's "severed hand" looks great in a Witches Brew cocktail punch
    Nadia’s “severed hand” looks great in a Witches Brew cocktail punch – See recipe below

    “severed hand” to cool your punch bowl!

  5. Stay away from generic “scary” props like cheesy spiderwebs.
    Try: blood red roses, mice, pictures of Phil Spector… Use your imagination!
  6. Finished planning your party and playlist? Try making some  of Nadia’s coffin-shaped grilled cheese sandwiches for the buffet. And then check out all her other Spooky Recipes!

Find out more about celebrity chef Nadia G.

And here’s where to buy cool Halloween costumes.

Jack-o-lantern
Jack-o-lantern (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

BUT, if you’re just not in the mood to throw your own bash, here are a few tips for outside Halloween fun in Chicago:

  • From pub crawls to boat cruises or just regular Halloween parties at bars, check out EventBrite’s listing.
  • Consider the masks-mandatory (you can buy one at the door) upscale Halloween bash going on at the just-opened River North SHAY nightclub, 222 W. Ontario.
  • Bar Takito, 201 N. Morgan St. (at Lake) in the West Loop celebrates Halloween. Special $5 menu including $5 margaritas and food items will be available to any guest wearing a costume on Friday, October 31 and Saturday, November 1. Try their Sangre Del Toro (or “Blood of the Bull”) cocktail.
  • Newport Bar & Grill, 1344 W. Newport in Lakeview, hosts a Halloween costume party Friday October 31. A $500 cash prize for the “Best Group Costume” – $200 cash for “Best Individual Costume”. The bar will feature a live DJ all night long and offer $4 Craft Drafts, $4 Fireball shots, $5 Three Olive cocktails and $5 Bacardi bombs. An optional $20 package will be available from 9 p.m. – 12 a.m.
  • Masked Halloween wine tasting –  Taste eight different varietals and wine a prize for guessing the most correct. WineBar at Plum Market, Inside Plum Market Old Town, 1233 N. Wells St.
  • Quartino Ristorante & Wine Bar, 626 N. State St., is putting on its traditional Halloween Wine Bash on Thursday, October 30, 7 to 9 pm. $25 gets you a selection of beer, wine and delicious Italian-with-the-Quartino-touch fare, along with music and (of course) a Halloween costume contest!
  • Bar on Buena, 910 W. Buena, EVIL TWIN DEVIL’S NIGHT EVIL COSTUME BASH on Thursday, October 30th (Devil’s Night!). 7pm – til ?? – a night of frightening flicks, macabre music, spooky spirits. Prizes for the most evil costumes include VIP Blackhawks tickets, BOB Gift Certificates, Beer Swag and more.
  • Chicago Q, 1160 N. Dearborn St., an upscale barbeque place with a gorgeous wood-paneled bar, gets in the Halloween spirit, this October 31 with the Spooky q Potion cocktail ($12 – Bourbon, Cinnamon Simple Syrup and Apple Cider served on the rocks with a gummy worm garnish).
  • Plymouth Restaurant & Bar, 327 S. Plymouth Court,  on Friday, October 31, serves up a complimentary buffet full of Swamp Dip and Cheesy Freddy Fingers. Wash it down with Blue Moon pints for $4.00 and Pama Pomegranate Martinis for $5.00, and The Scary Night drink special for $5.00. Costumes encouraged.

*Spooky Halloween cocktails include Witches Brew punch:

Witches Brew

  • 4 oz. Once Upon a Vine® Fairest Chardonnay
  • 2 oz. Pear nectar
  • 1 oz. Lime juice
  • .5 oz. Simple syrup
  • 3 Sprigs of thyme

Directions: Shake ingredients in a cocktail shaker and strain into a chilled glass.

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Merano Wine Tour at Eataly attracts a crowd

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A group of Italian makers of fine wine came to show off their creations at the first-ever tour of the winners of the Merano, Italy Wine Festival competition. Held from 6 to 10 pm at Eataly Chicago last week, it turned out to be a very popular event.

Almost all the wines I tasted (I’m a red fan) were utterly beautiful – full, rich, deep flavors and long finishes.  (Where I give prices they come from my Vivino iPhone wine app, so may or may not reflect actual retail where you shop.) A few of my favorites were Cantina Tollo Riserva Cagiolo Montepulciano d’Abruzza 2009 (so delicious I wanted to sit down to dinner immediately with close friends and share intimate secrets, I found prices from $56 to $19 so shop around), Cantina Tollo Colle Secco Riserva 2009 (lighter but still deeply flavorful – drink alone or with food, $29?), Riserva Montigi Pinot Noir 2011 ($25), Terlaner Classico 2013 (good value if you can get it for $19), Vignetti di Spessa Friuli Colli Orientali Schioppettino 2011, and Serafini & Vidotto Phigaia After the Red 2009 ($23).

Italian appetizers included several creative takes on bruschetta including one with sauteed mushrooms, one with pepperoncini and a few others. A dish of fine olive oil sat ready for dipping thick slices of crusty, hearty multigrain bread. Tasters also lined up for a small buffet lined with crisp vegetables – endive leaves, peppers and so on – with a bagna cauda (anchovy) dip, plus meatballs and more, and a huge vat full of chunks of Parmiggiano Reggiano. All strikingly good-tasting.

Next year I hope will bring a larger space to accommodate the many enthusiastic attendees – with at least a few places for older and tired-feet-after-work folks to sit down. These wines were excellent and can only improve when tasters have room to move. I dream of the day when wine tastings will reliably give, here and there, a place to set something down. It’s a real trick balancing a plate, napkin, camera/phone, pen and wine-rating book while swirling and sipping!

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Go North to Grand Traverse Resort & Spa in Michigan

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Ever been to Northern Michigan? I just went there for the first time recently, and I can tell you it’s beautiful country. It’s a delightful place to escape from Chicago’s intensity for a bit. Happily, there’s a cool resort – owned and operated by the Chippewa and Ottawa Indian tribes – near Traverse City that’s got everything you need for a real retreat. It’s called Grand Traverse Resort & Spa.

Three golf courses – all respectably difficult – grace the property. The outdoor pool has its own food service (in season). The fully equipped health club is huge – 100,000 square feet – and includes five beautifully maintained indoor tennis courts, two indoor pools and two hot tubs open early to late, a full fitness center with machines, weights and classes, and a childcare center called the Cub House.

Also, on premises you have three restaurants (read about Aerie here) and a whole little avenue of shopping pleasures. MudPie offers delightful gifts and fun fashions and accessories. Dylan’s Candy Bar has a host of sweet treats and fun little gifts for kids. Tumbleweeds carries toys and games for kids of all ages. Plus there’s an American Spoon shop with fabulously creative jams, sauces, and more.

Plus, you can always visit the Turtle Creek Casino down the road if you’re one who enjoys gambling. Plus you can visit nearby National Forests – Huron-Manistee, sample good food in Traverse City (Amical), visit lighthouses and wineries. You will not be bored.

By the way, this part of Michigan is about to receive millions of dollars for repair and resurfacing highways and byways. So if you’ve ever been in this area and run into some difficult traffic or roads, you should find smoother sailing soon.

Don’t take the highway up there. Rather take the scenic route up Route 31 (the trip is seven-ish hours) and stop in one or two of the little lakeside towns (starting from closest to Traverse City): Frankfort, Manistee, Ludington, Muskegon and Saugatuck are all charming places to get a meal or a drink. Crowded in the summer, but still fun to see even off-season.

It was my first time in Northern Michigan – and I’m hoping I’ll be back again soon.

 

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Chicago Gourmet 2014 today and tomorrow

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It starts months before. Chefs and culinary personalities across the country put on food and drink events in Chicago all year. Then comes the big weekend – that’s now.

Last night Bon Appétit presents Chicago Gourmet opened with the traditional Hamburger Hop. Twenty chefs competed to create the hamburger with the most epicurean elan.

Hamburger Hop winner Chef Mendelsohon #ChicagoGourmet
Hamburger Hop winner Chef Mendelsohon #ChicagoGourmet

Chef Spike Mendelsohn of Good Stuff Eatery got *Judge’s Choice for his “Prez Obama Burger,” with red onion marmalade, gorgonzola crumbles and horseradish mayonnaise on a brioche bun.

The Chefs John Hogan & Tony Mantuano for their “Tête de Tête Burger,” layered with house-made head cheese, onion pickle relish, tête de moine (gourmet Swiss cheese) and crispy pig skin on a yogurt roll. Attendees voted by dropping bottle caps into containers at their favorite chef’s station.

A good time was had by all. And I hope you’re out there today partaking of the expansive array of food and drink options in Chicago’s biggest culinary celebration. If you’re not, see if there are any tickets left for tomorrow.

If you’re feeling flush, get a ticket for the Grand Cru. An unforgettable crush of fabulous wines and gourmet tastes.

* Judges included culinary experts Lin Brehmer (WXRT), Carla Hall (The Chew), Jeff Mauro (Sandwich King), Mario Rizzotti (Iron Chef America), Patrick O’Neill (Lagunitas Brewing Company) and Michael Gebert (Chicago Sun-Times).

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Top-drawer dinner special at David Burke’s Primehouse

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How do you judge the excellence of a steakhouse? Quality of the meat, certainly. The sides matter, of course. But in some cases, more than the food sets one place above another – ambience, wine pairings and service.

That’s where David Burke’s Primehouse, located in The James Hotel at 616 N. Rush St. , stands out. If all the wait staff are as knowledgeable and attentive as was Bryan, our server on a recent visit, this place gets nearly five stars. Plus the wines they paired with our food were truly exceptional. The first one, for example, was a blend of their own vintages that rated a solid four stars.

Primehouse occasionally offers a prix fixe menu with wine pairings at an attractive price compared to ordering a la carte. Once you review the regular menu and look at what you would have been paying, you realize just how attractive the package is.

At any rate, the Primehouse folks select the menu to showcase some of their most popular items. The appetizer, Surf & Turf Dumplings, takes the prize for imaginative use of ordinary ingredients. Two little dumplings – really, deep-fried dough-covered-fillings-on-a-stick – come out beautifully displayed on a pair of square pristine-white plates – set off brilliantly by the restaurant’s subtle mood lighting.

And then comes the taste. Layer upon layer of flavor jumps out as you bite into each dumpling – one made with lobster and roasted lemon chutney, and the other with meltingly tender beef short rib meat seasoned with pickled red onion and spicy mustard. The dish was reminiscent of the finely wrought, multi-layered-flavors in certain Asian delicacies but with a distinctly North American weight to it.

Next came an arugula salad full of almost-bacony flavor from the house-smoked-over-applewood truffle tomatoes, set off with pine nuts and coated lightly with a creamy goat cheese fondue. Nice combo. Especially enjoyed the slight bitterness of the greens with the creamy smoothness of the dressing.

We were taken aback when Bryan delivered the next plate. Three very large chunks of seared, rare ahi tuna sat atop a vegetable mix consisting of preserved fennel, bell peppers, black olives and a few green beans. A more than generous serving of an intriguing combination, though not a favorite for either of us.

Next, the piece de resistance. The auxiliary server arrived with a large char-grilled steak. Bryan was concerned that it might be overdone (we’d requested one serving medium rare and one medium well). We appreciated that he asked to have it taken back so the chef could confirm it was properly cooked to order. While we waited, Bryan explained this is their most popular steak – the bone-in 55-day dry-aged ribeye, and that it hangs in their own dry-aging smokehouse for that many days before it’s sent to the grill.

The steak came back from the kitchen confirmed, and the auxiliary server carved it for us, first in half, and then in slices, giving each of us pieces that conformed to our wished-for doneness. Sides included an aluminum basket of French Fries seasoned with truffle oil and melted Asiago cheese, and a generous helping of Roasted Mushrooms seasoned with shallots, sherry vinegar and herbs and served in a sizzling oval skillet.  While none of these dishes reached beyond good, they were nicely prepared and flavorful.

Throughout the meal both Bryan and the sommelier kept us in generous tastes of the selected paired fine wines. Bryan was also kind enough to write out the list of wines for us:

  • Palette Pinot Noir 2013 (Primehouse’s own blend for sale by request at $75/bottle) – exceptional
  • William Fevre Chablis 2012 – a beautifully balanced, un-oaky Chardonnay
  • Sanford Chardonnay 2013 – Santa Barbara
  • Duckhorn Cabernet Sauvignon 2012 – Napa Valley – exceptional

Finally, a composed dessert called Coconut & Mango. Coconut cake, mango semifreddo (softly frozen custard), mango mojito sorbet, and key lime chia seed gelee. Delicious flavors artfully arranged in a plate-size carnival of color variations, textures and shapes and served with a respectable Italian Moscato, this was a winner.

I’ll be back when this fabulous special is available again.

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How’d they make it that color? Provence dry rosé wines

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Français : Dégustation de Rosé de Provence
Français : Dégustation de Rosé de Provence (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If you’re a baby boomer like me, you remember the time when the term rosé attached to a wine meant an overly sweet, syrupy libation called white zinfandel. To most of us in the U.S. back then, that’s all the rosé there was – unless you were already a serious wine aficionado, which meant, of course, knowing French wines because France was considered the source of good wines.

Today, the rosé movement across the United States is all about crisp, food-friendly pink wines, most of which come from Provence in the south of France. You can learn more from a new book out called Provence Food and Wine: The Art of Living by Viktorija Todorovska, a well-traveled author who writes with love about Provence food and drink and includes recipes she makes at home for her friends.

The book tells about pairing Provence dry rosés with food and tells you where to find these wines outside of Europe. Plus, in case you’re moved to get thee hence, she shares a multitude of tips on where to go and what to do when you’re in that delicious part of the world.

Friends and I recently enjoyed a dinner of Provence wines paired with dishes from Viktorija’s cookbook at the beautifully restored restaurant side (reopened in 2012) of The House of Glunz wine and spirits shop, where they carry a select group of fine wines and spirits. Though many are on the pricier side, you’ll also see baskets of highly rated yet affordable deals. The folks who work there know wines and spirits and can help you pick out just the right bottle to fit your taste and your budget.Description : gamme de couleur de vins rosés d...

Meanwhile, if you’ve tasted many of these beautiful dry rosé wines, you know they’re loaded with character and body and come in a gorgeous variety of pinks and salmons. Ever wonder how they do that?

Well, there’s a whole institute dedicated to it in Provence. Since 1999, experts at the Center for Research and Experimentation on Rosé Wine in Vidauban, Provence, have been studying the question of color. They’ve identified four factors that determine the shade of pink a Provence rosé will exhibit, from light to darker, with more of a purplish hue or one that leans toward coral (i.e., salmon pink). Here they are:  

Grape variety. All Provence rosés are made mainly from red grapes, but some have more pigment in their skins than others. Those yield the darker pinks.

Climatic conditions. Provence is a country of varying terrains, all with distinct differences in temperature, sun, and soil. In a recent five-year experiment, researchers made wines with exactly the same grape varieties and using the same vinification methods. Growing conditions alone produced striking color variations along with variations in acidity, aroma, and flavor. Proof positive that “like great white and red wines, rosé wines are also ‘wines of terroir.’”

Temperature control during winemaking. Temperature control in Provence begins at harvest (conducted at night, when the grapes are their coolest) and includes the use of refrigerated presses, thermo-regulated fermentation tanks, and cold aging facilities — all to preserve the freshness and color of the wine.

→ View video: “The Making of Provence Rosé: Temperature Control

Skin contact time. Finally, what color your finished wine is depends on how long the grape skins are in contact with the clear juices. The shorter the time, the paler the wine. Provence’s palest wines start with pressing grapes right after picking. For deeper-colored rosés, grapes are crushed and then soaked (or macerated) – skins and juice together – for 2 to 20 hours at a specific temperature. Then the pink juice is released into the fermentation tank.

Provence wines are the gold standard for rosé. These winemakers are continually investing in ways to make sure these wines offer beauty, freshness, and balance in a glorious range of colors. For more information visit www.winesofprovence.com and on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

P.S. I like the palest colors the best. ” )

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Pinot Days 2014 coming – highlights of 2013

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Fess Parker wine wearing a coonskin hat at Pinot Days 2013!
Fess Parker wine wearing a coonskin hat at Pinot Days 2013!

I’m excited that Pinot Days 2014 is coming to Chicago again – I really enjoyed the wines I tasted in 2013.  Mark your calendar now for April 26 at Navy Pier, from 2 to 5 pm. Believe it or not, this winter will be over before we know it! The festival goes on for days before that party – with Winemaker Dinners, “Meet the Winemaker” pinot and food pairings at local wine bars and restaurants, and tastings at boutique retail stores.

This year more than 50 wineries will come to Chicago to “paint the town pinot.” Then, it all culminates with the Grand Festival at beautiful Navy Pier. To help you get an idea of what you can look forward to at Pinot Days festival 2014, here are some notes from what I experienced at the Pinot Days 2013.

Lucky for me, I have an oenophile son-in-law. I mean this is a guy who actually absorbs what he reads in Wine Spectator. So I emailed him the list of wineries that would be represented and he made some picks. As a result of his educated suggestions, I’d say this was one of the best wine tastings I can remember. Of course I ended up tasting several wines that were so high-end I had to bend at the knees to hoist the price tags. But hey, what better way to get to know these beauties!

Pinot Days Chicago 2013 was packed with celebrity wineries. From bubblies to deep, dark reds, from high-end beauties for $60 and $75 a bottle to more affordable reserves, the selection was huge, the wine-pourers friendly, and the atmosphere relaxed. More notes from Pinot Days Chicago 2013: My 5-star pick: Miner Family 2011 “777” Rosella ($75). Some of my 4-star picks:

And here are a few of the other memorable pinot noir tastes available at last year’s Pinot Days:

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Double Gold winners – good way to find great wines

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DG - Wollersheim dry rieslingSan Francisco invented this challenge and in 2013, its 33rd year, more than 1400 wineries entered 4500+ products from 29 states and 30 countries. Since the San Francisco International Wine Competition folks took the 2013 winners on the road to major cities across the country, I’m sharing my notes on some of the Double Gold winners that stood out.

The Double Gold Winner of the overall competition (as judged by 52 of the wine industry’s best palates) came from a not-far-from-Chicago winery. How about that? American winemaking has sure come a long way. Even the tres haute magazine Wine Spectator says France is rapidly losing its mystique as the mecca of the winemaking universe. The day is nearly upon us when serving your guests a fine “blanc de blancs” (what sparkling wines have to call themselves when they’re not made in the Champagne region of France) will have precisely the same cachet as pouring champagne.

Wollersheim Winery, maker of the winning wine, is located at 7876 Hwy. 188 in a little town called Prairie du Sac, a few miles from Madison, WI. They took the grand prize with a still white wine, a dry Riesling. While I normally think of Rieslings as the white that’s a-little-too-sweet-for-dry-wine-drinkers wine, this one is titled “dry” and tasted deliciously light with barely a hint of sweetness. A masterful blending.

And here are a few among the other Double Gold winners that I particularly enjoyed.

Puma Road 2011 Chardonnay from Pedregal Vineyard in Paicines, San Benito County. This is the only white wine that I gave 5 stars to, even though the judges chose D&L Carinalli Vineyards 2011 Estate Chardonnay as the Best Chardonnary of the show. Both retail for about $20, so pick one or both and decide what you think.

Here’s an interesting twist. The wine chosen Best Merlot – Villa Yambol 2011 Merlot from Thracian Valley, Bulgaria – retails for about $8 and garners only 3 stars on the popular Vivino wine app. Could be the price is so reasonable because the Bulgarians are just trying to gain a foothold in the international wine market. I remember when South American wines were dirt cheap. Not so much these days since their quality has finally been widely recognized.

I’m delighted to report I could agree wholeheartedly with the judges’ choice of Best Cabernet Sauvignon (my favorite grape). A big 5 stars to Rocca Family Vineyards 20009 Cabernet Sauvignon, Grigsby Vineyard, Yountville. Beautifully balanced, complex with a long finish (which I take to mean it keeps tasting good even after you swallow it).

And I gave 4 stars to the wine they designated Best Bordeaux Blend <$25, the Antucura 2008 Calcura, Red Bordeaux Blend from Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina (there’s that South American quality). Blended from Cabernet, Merlot and Malbec (a bunch of my favorite grapes), it retails for about $20.

The wine chosen as Best Red in Show was the J. Lohr 2009 Premium Bordeaux Blend, Cuvee POM Paso Robles, CA. I thought it had a tinge of sweetness, which surprised me in such a fine wine. But it was also exceedingly well balanced – creatively blended of Merlot and Cabernet Franc but with tiny additions of Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec and Petit Verdot (never heard of this one so here’s some info) – and very easy to drink. Not that I’d be likely to over-indulge at $50 a bottle. Still, a wine worthy of a truly special occasion.

One notable 4-stars-from-me wine was the McManis Family Vineyards 2011 Petite Sirah, CA with its ripe taste of blueberries. Sweet-ish, but not sweet ($11). And if you like prosecco very light taste and light bubbles, the Best Prosecco in Show was Zonin Prosecco from Veneto, Italy ($15). It had more body than I typically feel in prosecco. I liked it but much prefer the blanc de blancs and champagne for my wine bubbles.

The white wine chosen as Best Sauvignon Blanc was Matua 2012 Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough, New Zealand, supposedly the first sauvignon blanc ever grown in NZ, but I gave it only 3 stars. I am willing to try it again compare to one of my favorites, Goldwater sauvignon blanc, also from NZ.

You could, of course, also get the Top 100 Wines edition of Wine Spectator and start tasting in your price range. Whichever way you go, the only real answer to “what’s best” is to taste for yourself. Great way to start the new year, so have fun!

 

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