La Crema Wines, a star under the Jackson Family Wines banner, is bringing the pleasures of its Sonoma tasting room to several major U.S. cities with the La Crema Experiential Tour. Chicagoans can enjoy La Crema wines at Expo Chicago at Navy Pier this April 10-16 as they have been chosen as the only wines on offer to Expo patrons. Expo Chicago, going on this week, partners with the city’s most prestigious institutions to feature select aligned programming, including museum exhibitions, gallery openings, and more. And you can sip these lovely La Crema wines while you stroll around.
These delicious and luxurious wines have also been designated the only wine that will be featured at the 2023 Kentucky Derby. So if you’re planning to attend that prestigious event this year, you can look forward to partaking in a selection of wines that will greatly enhance your experience.
Consider joining the La Crema wine clubthat lets you access exclusive offers on their 38 types of wines. This collection covers everything from the every day wine for lunch or supper all the way to those elevated vintages that make special occasions even more remarkable. The depth and range of their offerings includes a few options sparkling – e.g., blanc de blancs – along with a wide selection of Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs. Their newest wines include a Sauvignon blanc and a Rhone white blend.
La Crema Head Winemaker Craig McAllister speaks passionately about the company’s commitment to sustainable growing practices. He recently brought a selection of its wines to Smith and Wollensky in Chicago ahead of their exclusive engagement with Expo Chicago 2023. If you can make it this week, get your tickets at Expo Chicago. If you can’t, don’t fail to try some of La Crema’s wine selections, especially its flagship Chardonnay. Your mouth will thank you.
New wineries are birthed all the time these days, what with global warming making climates around the world noticeably warmer. And for vintners in California, the vast selection of terroirs makes it easy to make many different expressions of grapes grown there. Recently received samples from a new contender that’s breaking out with multiple beautiful expressions of luxury Pinot Noir wines. Can’t go wrong with these lovelies.
Dutton-Goldfield Winery, located in the heart of Russian River Valley in CA, makes wines with the brightness of fruit, complexity, structure and balance you’d expect from grapes grown in this cool coastal neighborhood.
The partners, Steve Dutton and Dan Goldfield, each came to winemaking from a completely different direction – Steve from farming and Dan from chemistry – but their partnership has manifested itself beautifully in their work with their now-over-80 vineyards comprising 1000 acres. They grow many different grapes and make small quantities of many different varietal wines, but they specialize in Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Their Pinot Noirs comes in multiple expressions each year to represent all the different vineyards they own. See the full list of current Dutton-Goldfield releases here. Their Chardonnay is a delightful treat, as an aperitif and with meals. The DG Wine Club is a way for members to connect with the history and knowledge of the founders and to guarantee their own supply of DG’s single-vineyard, limited production wines all year. Below are winemaker notes on some of their new releases with links.
Pinot Noir 2017, Azaya Ranch Vineyard, Marin County. Black raspberry, plum and Bing cherry aromas with undertones of thyme and sandalwood. The palate shows boysenberry, blueberry and raspberry, with cinnamon and nutmeg notes. Perfect with earthy dishes. 360 cases produced. SRP ~$62.
Pinot Noir 2017, Angel Camp Vineyard, Anderson Valley. Aromas of dusky plum, with back notes of brambleberry and sandalwood, along with violet floral accents. In the mouth, sweet plum and wild berry fruit are underlaid with black tea, peaty earth and spice box. Round and soft tannins and a creamy finish complete this elegant wine. Serve with earthy foods. 364 cases produced. SRP ~$62.
Deviate Pinot Noir 2017, Sonoma Coast. Bold aromas of black cherry and black raspberry, with accents of tobacco, thyme and licorice along with violet floral notes. Mouth-filling with rich brambly berry flavors. Drink now or let it unwind, in the glass or the bottle. Black raspberry with black tea notes. the firm tannins carry it to a long, sandalwood-laced finish. Intense wine that pairs well with bold flavors like beef, hot peppers, lamb stew, duck curry or peppery cheeses. SRP ~$72.
Pinot Noir 2017 Docker Hill Vineyard, Mendocino County. Deep and layered. Aromas of black cherry, blackberry, sandalwood, and peaty earth with a base of tobacco and black tea. Taste sweet blackberry and boysenberry that lead in waves to the long, creamy finish. Pair this robust wine equally sturdy foods like ribs, sausages or cumin lamb kebabs or creamy, tangy cheeses like herbed goat cheese or young pecorino. 402 cases produced. SRP ~$68.
Pinot Noir 2017, Dutton Ranch/Emerald Ridge Vineyard, Green Valley oF Russian River Valley. The nose alerts you to this wine’s intensity with packed aromas of blueberry, blackberry, raspberry and cherry, rolling like waves after each other. Then berries and cherry compote join sandalwood, cinnamon and a sweet-earthy beetroot on the palate. Firm round tannins are ready now but will keep broadening with time in the bottle. Put this on the table with rich dishes – lamb or game birds with herbs or mushrooms, or with tangy cheeses like manchego. 671 cases produced. SRP ~$68.
01Incidentally, this is only a sample of the selection of beauties from this winery. Explore the Dutton Goldfield website and let your tastebuds tingle as you make your selections. These people do a great job.
South Africa – not a place we U.S. folks normally think of in connection with fine wines but, hey, the times they are a-changin’. And some excellent South African wine makers are making their presence known here in the U.S. with their wines that take full advantage of the many fine terroirs available there. Their 2019 visit to Chicago – Wines of South Africa Roadshowheld at Bar Ramone– paired delicious appetizers with a range of varietals from five different wineries in various sections of South Africa. Some of the 4- and 5-star lovelies – with quite reasonable prices – included:
Glenelly Lady May 2012. 89% Cabernet, 10% Petit Verdot, 1% Cabernet Franc. Delicious! SRP ~$50.
Another day brought six South African winemakers to City Winery Chicago, 1200 W. Randolph, where they conducted a seminar to educate participants about how in the past ten to fifteen years South African winemakers have caught up with the wisdom of winemakers from many other countries.
Representing some of South Africa’s top winemaking talent, this collaboration brings together longtime friends and colleagues who have studied and worked together over the last 20 years. “This is the first time we’re telling our story in the United States and we’re incredibly excited to tell this story together,” says Adi Badenhorst of A.A. Badenhorst Family Wines.
In showcasing the diverse wines and landscape of South Africa, each winemaker represents a distinct terroir and perspective on the experimentation and innovation happening in the country today. The group includes:
Adi Badenhorst, A.A. Badenhorst Family Wines
Sebastian Beaumont, Beaumont Family Wines
Abrie Beeslaar, Beeslaar and Kanonkop Estate
Graham Weerts, Capensis
Eben Sadie, The Sadie Family Wines
These experienced winemakers have begun making new magic with some popular grape varietals like making Chenin Blanc. They’ve begun rarefying grape varietals to create the likes of Pinotage – a combination of Cinsault and Pinot Noir – that can be used to make a rich, delicious wine. And they’re putting together classic varietals like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Cabernet Franc to produce especially deep, @arich wines. All of these wines are totally food friendly.
“South Africa is exciting in that it’s not monolithic, it’s incredibly diverse,” says Eben Sadie of The Sadie Family Wines. “It’s the oldest of New World wine regions, and at the same time there’s a novel approach to wine with many individual interpretations.”
The panel of winemakers collaborated over many hours of testing to select a small group of wines they felt were emblematic of the diversity in South African wines. And Rebekah Mahru, Beverage Director for City Winery moderated the master class so that each of these big-personality winemakers had the opportunity to speak from the heart about their wines. Here is a list of those specially chosen wines along with some of the panelists’ comments:
A.A. Badenhorst Ramnasgras 2017. 100% Cinsault. SRP ~$45. Adi said, “After 1995 most South African winemakers felt they had to make wines that were like those made in the U.S. Now, in the last ten to fifteen years, we are starting to make really South African wines.”
The Sadie Family Wines Soldaat 2017. 100% Grenache Noir. SRP ~$75. This wine tasted a bit grape-y to us. Eben Sadie said, “We have corrected many of the mistakes about where to grow grapes, etc. We’re a more focused, vibrant industry.” The Jackson Family is now investing in South African wines. “They have always been pioneers,” he said. Eben said he learned a great deal from having spent ten years living in Spain.
Storm Vrede 2016. 100% Pinot Noir. Pleasant, light, not too acidic, pale color. SRP ~$55.
Beeslaar Pinotage 2016. A 4.5-star 100% Pinotage (a hybrid of Pinot and Cinsault). SRP ~$55. This is Abrie Beeslaar’s own label, founded in 2011. Grown on shale, this wine has rich perfume and many floral notes. Pairs better than most wines with spicy foods.
Kanonkop Estate Paul Sauer 2015. A 5-star Bordeaux blend created by Abrie Beeslaar – 70% Cabernet, 15% Merlot and others. In South Africa they are allowed to plant anything anywhere they like. No rules, as in France. Beeslaar said the wind is a key factor in the quality of the grapes in this lower-mountain-slope vineyard. The winds cool the vineyards and limit the growth of the bush vine plants.
Boekenhoutskloof Syrah 2015. 100% Syrah. Another wine from Eben Sadie, this one has a short finish bit is otherwise fully ripe and rich. SRP ~$65.
The Sadie Family Wines Palladius 2016. This 5-star white is a blend of 11 dfifferent varieties from the Swartland area. Aged 24 months in clay amphorae, then in concrete eggs, then in oak foudres which don’t impart oak characteristics.
Vergelegen Flagship G.V.B. White 2016. 80% Semillon and 20% Sauvignon Blanc. These vineyards are also scoured by howling winds on a regular basis. This wine is green, light, fresh and young, and is not yet available in the U.S.
Klein Constantia Vin de Constance 2015. 100% Muscat de Frontignan. Lovely dessert wine that is more complex than many sweet wines. Jane Austen and others of her time were huge fans of Constantia wines. SRP ~$95.
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!
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.
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.
Maximillian Riedel, owner of Riedel Glassware in Austria, came to Chicago recently as part of his six-US-cities tour and staged an impressive demonstration of how the size – and shape – of your glass matter immensely to how your wine will taste.
We’ve all heard that wine glass characteristics are critical to gaining the maximum pleasure from each type of wine, but until you’ve actually experienced the difference, you might be skeptical. Attendees at West Loop’s City Winery were eager to see what this master of wineglass making would have to say.
Riedel spoke at length about the purpose of a wineglass, chief among which is to be “the loudspeaker for the wine.” Every group varietal has its own DNA, he said, and only the proper glass will showcase it to its best advantage. He also said Riedel is commissioned by wineries all around the world to create glasses for their particular grape varietal. They’ve fulfilled some heady assignments: Dom Perignon asked Riedel to create a single type of glass for all their wines. Joseph Krug asked for a glass other than a flute for his champagnes. The flute shape promotes the smell of yeast rather than fruit, and thus all champagnes tend to smell the same when served in a flute.
In regards to global warming, a critical question for winemakers these days, the wine glass makers said they have had to continue to enlarge their glasses in order to manage the increased intensity of the fruit and the higher alcohol that warmer temperatures are promoting. He said even Norway is beginning to plant grape vines. “As to whether this is a good thing,” he said, “time will tell.”
Riedel defended the thinness of the company’s glasses by saying this contributes to keeping the beverage longer at the proper serving temperature. When you put a cool or cold liquid into a glass that’s at room temperature, the thicker the glass the more quickly the liquid begins to warm up.
Maximillian is tall, slender, aristocratic and, especially with his delightful Austrian accent, a compelling speaker. He commanded the attention of the audience from the moment he came onstage. He spoke about how his great grandfather invented the first Riedel glasses that changed the way wine makers felt about their beloved beverage. He spoke of how his grandfather, his father and he himself have honored the tradition by continually testing and crafting new and better shapes and configurations to improve the experience of drinking quality wine and other alcoholic beverages.
We certainly expected to notice a difference in this demo, but perhaps not as much as we actually did, especially on the white wine. He started the demonstration with wine poured into plastic cups – the type you usually get at outdoor events or crappy bars. Then he reminded everyone to remember that you experience wine in four different ways: 1. The texture. 2. The temperature. 3. The taste. And, 4. The aftertaste [which includes the finish, or how long the flavors stay on the palate ~BP} before instructing us to pour the white wine into the first three glasses to begin.
A few of the tasting tips this master of wineglass architecture shared with attendees:
Decant every bottle of wine, even champagne, and for Pinot Noir, it is a must. Aerating wine makes it absorb oxygen which helps it mature – and aging will always improve a wine. For mature wines (10-plus years), decant slowly to avoid sediment.
Swirl your wine gently in the glass to continue aerating as you enjoy. The new optic finish (read: ever-so-slightly rippled) inside the new Riedel Performance series increases the surface area inside the glass which further helps aerate the wine.
Do not rinse your glass with water between wines. Tap water has its own taste and aroma that can interfere.
To properly experience a wine’s aroma, place your nose into the glass and breathe in. On this first sniff you should notice the fruit in the wine, but keep your nose in the glass as you breathe out then in again. The second time you should notice more of the minerality.
Throw out your old traditional white wine tulip glasses (and your plastic). I noticed the greatest difference here. White wine in the small traditional-shape glass gave off very little aroma except alcohol. Virtually nothing at all in a plastic cup. Once you pour and swirl it in the much wider and more rounded bowl of the balloon-shaped Riedel Restaurant Oaked Chardonnay glass – designed in 1973 for Italian sommeliers (and in Europe, Riedel said, they use this glass for gin & tonics) – you get the full effect of all aromas: fruit, yeast and oak. He said you end up sort of sucking your wine out of this shape, so that it hits your tongue higher up, thus avoiding the tip of the tongue (see **tip below). But at least as impressive to me was the transformation of the texture, compared to drinking from the original glass. In the new glass the wine comes into its silky and creamy natural state. A real eye-opener.
White chocolate goes best with a quality Pinot Noir. He had us chew a piece of it, then sip the wine with the chocolate still melting in our mouths. Nice. [And how we love dark chocolate with Cabernet!]
Some of the words Riedel used to describe the way wines can taste/feel – good or bad: thin/heavy/viscose/jammy, rough/smooth/creamy/silky, salty/dry/green/bitter, heavy/light and so on. If you think about it, you’ve probably experienced all of those reactions to a wine at some point, but perhaps, like many of us, were not always quite able to name them. [The magic word for good wine is “balanced” so that no one of these qualities overpowers the others. ~BP]
In case you need additional expert testimony, Robert Parker, the famed wine critic, uses Riedel glassware for his taste testing. And most of Riedel’s business is from home eonophiles rather than restaurants. Only a guess – restaurants are businesses and the cost and relative fragility of these fine Riedel glasses may be a deterrent.
**Riedel said the tip of your tongue is an “acidity bumper” and that this is desirable when you want the acidity to counterbalance the fruit – which is why the unusually shaped Performance Pinot Noir glass is designed specifically to make the wine touch the tip of your tongue immediately. Works beautifully.
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.
If you’ve ever thought a Pinot Noir from Oregon tasted like a Burgundy, you’re not alone. Though half a world away from each other, both regions are located on nearly the same latitude and many winemakers in each area practice similar vinification techniques. Early makers of Pinot Noir in America had to go to Burgundy to study because no wineries here were making Pinot Noir at the time. Willamette Valley has been focusing on Pinot Noir for the last 51 years, and its capricious weather keeps winemakers on their toes.
Oregon, according to a panel of Jackson Family Wines Collection winemakers from there who visited Chicago recently, is a state of mind that’s slightly different for each of them, but all of them speak about the need to be flexible and creative and collaborative because of the challenge of Oregon’s cool, fast-changing climate conditions.
Chicago is 6th in the United States in consumption of Oregon Pinot Noir – consumption here is up by 26% in the last year. And one of the big reasons is the excellent quality of the Pinot Noirs produced in the Willamette Valley by these very winemakers.
Below is a glimpse into the collective wisdom of these passionate and skilled winemakers – a somewhat loose arrangement of interesting bits about winemaking from the half-dozen panelists – who were, by the way, having more fun up there than we’ve ever seen in a wine tasting program!
The soils in Willamette (pronounced Will-am-it, dammit) are actually oceanic, which is really good for growing Pinot Noir grapes. As the earth’s tectonic plates scraped against each other creating mountains in that area, they dislodged soil that was formerly at the bottom of an ocean and deposited that in the valley between the two mountain ranges, Cascade and Coast that both influence the environment and protect the grapes that grow here.
In 1988 there were only 49 wineries in Oregon. Now there are 700.
Unlike in Napa Valley where many owners don’t live, Jackson Family winemakers live on site. They also meet regularly and readily share information with each other. For example, when one grower decided to try earlier thinning than tradition, he readily passed along the results: vines mature better and the grapes have more flavor.
California, Oregon’s southern neighbor, is too warm to grow Pinot Noir grapes. It seldom has difficult growing seasons, whereas Oregon’s climate is a constant challenge to wine growers.
Julia Jackson, born in Sonoma, said her mother had a vision of going to Oregon, and then the whole family fell in love with wines grown there. Julia herself loves being out in the vineyards, being stewards of the land, a sense of discovery about the great wines. Jackson Family winemakers also believe in educating visitors and so sponsor collaborative trips for that purpose.
The grapes in Willamette are more transparent than those grown in Burgundy, yet the finished wines can easily be aged 10 to 15 years. Burgundy has many different producers. Willamette offers multiple mesoclimates. Producers must be in intimate touch with the features of their terroir, and most consider their big markers as the specific site and the vintage – yielding wines with a rustic nature and a nice backbone of tannins. Even though Oregon Pinots have a darker profile, they tend to be fresher and more acidic than California’s.
Napa is most known for its Cabernet; Willamette is identified with Pinot Noir; Argentina with Malbec. La Crema was the first Jackson Family winery to move into Oregon. They definitely don’t try to make a California version of Pinot, but rather work on discovering what’s there and stay true to that. Willamette’s vintage-to-vintage variability necessitates constant continuing education. Jackson Family winemakers are required to dedicate 5% of land to biodiversity as part of the goal of keeping the land healthy.
Lots of volcanic soils are good for winemaking and viticulture. They have greater water holding capacity. Results in plush, fruit-driven wines. Sedimentary soil (as in Willakenzie) drains more freely. Vines struggle more, resulting in wines that are a bit more rustic, firm, structured. Oregon has only these two soil types – sedimentary and volcanic. California has many more soil types than France.
Wind is a moderating influence, and in Oregon it is significant. The last two wines listed below are grown in seriously windy areas. Zena-Crown is in the Van Duzer Corridor, where the same strong wind blows all year, even on 90-degree days. “We pick 2-3 weeks later, because vines shut down at night. It’s always been a truism that we can’t plant above 1000 feet, but now we’re considering it because the summers have been so much warmer. Skins get thicker from the wind – which helps grapes defend against weather. Keeps higher acidity, which equals freshness and tannins.” Read more about the cool-climate growing conditions in Willamette Valley.
The winemakers are taking their program to various destinations around the U.S., and they said the character of the just-opened wines changes with every location – influenced by such things as barometric pressure, humidity, and the altitude at which you drink them. Even being on an upper floor, as we were in one of the beautiful Kimpton Gray Hotel event spaces where the program took place, would make a difference. They all said the wines were giving off more florals and more spice here than they had in the previous city. Ha! Most of us can only dream of one day achieving the level of sensitivity of such highly educated noses and palates…
Jackson Family winemakers talk to each other and taste wines together. They are individual artists who make their own decisions. The Jackson Family does not prescribe that a winemaker must do something in a particular way. In fact, they even allow them to use blocks of land from partner wineries to make their blends.
Structure, texture, and aroma are the concerns when putting together a blend. All Jackson Family vintners use French wood barrels and must be instinctive about how many oak barrels to buy – a decision that’s made long before the harvest.
“Look out for the tannins,” said one panel member. “The fermentation process can get away from you. It’s not good to add salt later in the process – that amounts to ‘remedial winemaking’ and isn’t where we want to go.” In Oregon, it always rains during harvest, but every good winemaker will say that’s not necessarily a deal breaker. They know how to compensate.
One panelist said they don’t drink their own wines at home, but rather experiment with others. “We go to the grocery store and buy European wines for $18-$20 a bottle. We want to know what the consumer is buying and experiencing.”
Below are the names of the six wines the panelists provided for tasting, organized from lightest to most substantial in structure. Each is marked with our totally subjective star rating (remember, we tend to love highly structured wines) and a few winemaker tasting notes.
Siduri Willamette Valley 2015. ***1/2 This Pinot is made with a blend of three different regions, uses 25% whole cluster (means they keep the grapes on their stems) and is made using Burgundian vinification techniques. Winemaker notes: “Darker berry and currant flavors, along with hints of cherry joined by earth, dried brush, and even tobacco flavors.” SRP ~$24
WillaKenzie Gisele Willamette Valley 2014. **** Blended to produce a rustic, brambly fruit flavor. Winemaker notes: “Juicy acidity and flavors of raspberry, plum and a hint of white pepper. The mouthfeel is elegant and polished with a long, velvety finish.” SRP ~$24
Penner-Ash Willamette Valley 2014. ****1/2 A gorgeous dark purple color but transparent. Jammy flavor. Winemaker notes: “Experience ripe, fresh raspberry, red plums and strawberry compote with a hint of subtle cedar. The ﬁne texture and silky tannins enhance the vanilla, brown sugar, and leather notes on the ﬁnish.” SRP ~$40
La Crema Dundee Hills 2014. ***** Purple/garnet color with a mid-palate richness. Grown by the independent Oregon contingent of this famed La Crema California winery from two clones in an area sheltered from the winds, so with a longer growing season. This vineyard has 18 different soil types within its 80 acres. Winemaker notes: “A nose brimming with violets, cherry pie and earth. Flavors of pomegranate, raspberry and anise. Nuanced yet concentrated.” SRP ~$50
Gran Moraine Yamhill-Carlton 2014. ***** Another wine made with 25% whole cluster. Lovely pink-purple color. Winemaker notes: “Cranberry and rose hips up front that transform into orange zest and Meyer lemon on the mid pallet. This is followed by morel mushroom, red cedar, and exotic spices as allspice and mace. Precise but broad; exhibiting restrained power and elegance combined with immense aging potential. Finish lingers giving impressions of pipe tobacco, earth, white sage and pure cocoa. Shaped like a teardrop rippling outward at the point of contact with a still body of water.” SRP ~$45
Zena Crown Slope Eola-Amity Hills 2013. ***** Couldn’t put it better than Wine Spectator’s 93-point rating – “Rich and expressive, featuring black cherry and pepper notes set against tangy mineral flavors. Comes together smoothly as the finish gains traction, with a light bite of tannins. Drink now through 2023. 348 cases made.” SRP ~$100
Armand de Brignac occupies a premier position among the many prestigious makers of French champagne. Owner Shawn Carter and Winemakers Alex and Jean-Jacques Cattier, freely admit their goal is simply to make the finest champagnes in the world, designed specifically with the luxury wine collector/investor in mind.
Winemaker Emilien Boutillat came to Chicago recently to introduce Armand de Brignac’s newest product, Blanc de Noirs Assemblage Two, made exclusively with Pinot Noir grapes. They also asked Chef Lee Wolen at Boka to create pairings for the new blend and several other offerings with a view to educating members of the trade and press about their line of fine champagnes.
All of Armand de Brignac’s offerings are non-vintage, said Boutillat, but rather are created as blends, often from three different vintage years. For the rosé champagne, they actually use a blend of white and red wines that yields an orangey-rose color with a very fine bubble that makes a delightful aperitif.
The blanc de blancs stood out strong and smooth and full of character, which may be why the first course paired it with an unusual fish called Striped Jack – also known asShima Aji, categorized in the Jackfish family. Served with a bit of seaweed and potato and flavored with lime, this dish was the least favorite dish I’ve ever had at Boka. The champagne, nevertheless, was delicious and stood up well to the somewhat strong taste and very firm texture of the fish.
The next champagne, Armand de Brignac’s Champagne Gold Brut – its flagship wine – was extraordinarily delicate and so beautifully blended that it felt almost ethereal on the nose and palate and in the mouth. It made a perfect accompaniment to the Chef’s incredibly moist-fleshed chicken breast, stuffed under the crispy skin with house-made chicken-leg-meat sausage. Served with a small pouf of super-fine puree of parsnips, the serving was generous, the dish attractive and satisfying, and the wine a lovely accompaniment.
The next wine, of which Armand de Brignac has only made 2333 bottles, was a truly unique taste in champagne. If felt a bit strange at first on the palate, until I tasted it with the imaginative creation of a tiny piece of lamb tenderloin beside a dollop of creamy, thick apricot sauce. The combination was directly on the money. In fact, I’ve never experienced such a strong feeling of “Oh, yeah, these work perfectly together!” as I did with this pairing. This particular wine, said Boutillat, is made with a blend from harvests of 2008, 2009 and 2010.
Dessert, an extraordinarily light combination of coconut and citrus and exotic tropical passionfruit with tapioca and elderflower, was perfectly paired with the world’s only semi-sweet champagne – Armand de Brignac took the plunge some years ago to create its own demi sec champagne, a task no other luxury champagne company has ever undertaken. By all accounts, and by the taste that so complemented this dessert, they are succeeding admirably.
Boutillat, the 30-year-old winemaker who has been with Armand de Brignac for four years, came around to answer questions about the various wines and tell stories about his experiences around the world before settling down with this high-profile family-owned and -operated winery. His experience is multinational and his passion quite obvious. When asked about his comparative youth, Boutillat explained that senior owner Jean-Jacques Cattier likes to hire young people for the energy and the imagination they bring to further inspire the making of their great champagnes. Judging by the lovely champagnes at this event, luxury collectors everywhere can rejoice.
Another way is to identify an importer that you trust. And it’s good, too, if that importer can also direct you to locations where you can buy the wines they import. And that’s exactly what Pasternak Importers do. First, they select a winery in a specific location. Then they do the taste-testing to make sure the vintage or the blend meets their quality standards. Imagine trying to pick out your own wines from thousands produced in a region, the dozens or even hundreds of wines produced by a particular winemaker! Even master sommeliers, who get paid to do this stuff, have to study diligently and practice for long periods of time before they can do their work of informed recommending.
Pasternak deals in wines in the affordable category and all the way up to premium and even luxury wines – French, Italian, and more. You can search their portfolio by region, varietal or brand, and they have an extremely handy “Find Our Wines” widget that lets you locate multiple places you can find the wines you decide to try. Just put in your zip or city and state – country? – and click to see who carries what you’re looking for.
Recently Pasternak shared a few of their wines in several price categories for review purposes. A few notes about them below:
Valdo Rose Brut, A lovely medium pink bubbly that’s perfect for company or just for fun. Called a “Best Buy” in Wine and Spirits 8/16 issue. SRP $16
Thomas George Estates Estate Chardonnay. Aromas of star fruit, lemon, banana and hazelnut characterize Russian River Valley Chardonnay. Subtle flavors of citrus zest and custard express themselves among stronger notes of stone fruit. The finish lingers long with a nice fullness. SRP $30
Thomas George EstatesEstate Pinot Noir. Wine Enthusiast says: “Raw earth and black tea combine for a classic take on the variety, high-toned in wild strawberry and red cherry. Tightly wound, it opens in the glass, staying light but with texture and body, a floral wine with just enough weight.” SRP $43
Marchesi Fumanelli Terso Veneto IGT. The blend of 50% Garganega, 50% Trebbiano Toscano makes a beautiful white wine. Intense, nutty, and toasty aromas on the nose. The palate is concentrated and powerful with lemony freshness and bready notes. A striking wine with flavors of acacia, lime blossoms and fresh apricots. Amazing acidity. SRP $40
Marchesi Fumanelli Valpolicella Classico Superiore DOC. Brilliant ruby red color, with a pleasant aroma of dark cherry and mature forest fruit. Dry and velvety on the palate, with a hint of bitter almond. Enjoy the touch of sweet vanilla and the soft tannins. A well-structured wine with a soft, intense, long and persistent finish. A beautiful, rich and robust red to love with your Christmas tenderloin roast beef or your finest Hanukkah braised brisket and latkes. SRP $30
Lucien Albrecht Cremant d’Alsace Brut Rose. Strawberry and wild cherry fruit flavors, with a touch of richness on the mid palate. Dry, crisp acidity and a creamy texture and long finish. 90 points from Wine Enthusiast in 2015. SRP $22