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.
Want a wine that evokes gloriously fresh surroundings? The wines of the Loire Valley bring to mind a range of pleasant springs and mountain streams as well as gentle sun, lazy breezes and relaxed days. They come in a myriad styles – from dry to sweet and everything in between – and in all price ranges.
Recently, Jamel A. Freeman, wine director at the Bellemore Chicago, presented seminars at Spring to Loire 2019 in Chicago – facts, figures and stories about these lovely wines. He explained that Loire Valley wines are best known for crisp, dry, white wines, notably Sauvignon Blanc and aromatic Chenin Blancs. yet they also produce fruity red wines from Pinot Noir and Gamay grapes as well as earthy red wines from Cabernet Franc and Malbec. Not to mention their selection of dry and off-dry rosé, elegant sparklings and luscious sweet wines. All are known to be:
Moderate alcohol, refreshing acidity and minerality that make them ideal for pairing with foods.
Pure expressions of varietal and terroir unmasked by oak.
Jamel presented three separate seminars. One on the Diversity of LV wines. A second on the Sauvignons of LV. And a third on LV sparklings. He also shared additional interesting facts and figures about Loire Valley and about wines in general. Herewith a few tidbits:
The balance of acid and fruit is a good indicator of how well a wine will continue to develop in the bottle – like a fruit ripening, a wine may be high in acid to begin with and then become mellower and sweeter as it ages.
Is France’s #1 producer of white wines, and the #2 producer of rosés.
Is the #1 region for the number of AOC sparkling wines
Is the 3rd largest vineyard in France.
Has 51 appellations and denominations
Produces 320 million bottles per year.
Ever notice how Prosecco seems to go flat quickly? That’s because it’s produced by the bulk method. Loire Valley and other sparklings produced by methode traditionale are fermented a second time in the bottle – which results in longer-lasting bubbles.
Stress to vines develops complexity. Higher elevation means more acidity and more minerality.
Vouvray – which has become almost a generic name for sparklings from Loire Valley – is half as bubbly as champagne, but creamier than Cremant.
Chenin Blanc grapes are more aromatic than Charadonnay, but Chardonnay can be more easily manipulated because of its less powerful aromas.
Most of the wines Jamel presented are available at Binny’s. A few of the excellent wines showcased at the program are listed below. For more information about Loire Valley wines visit www.loirevalleywine.com/.
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.
Remember retsina from the 60s and 70s? It was the only name most Americans associated with Greek wines back then – and it wasn’t usually a pleasant link. But this year, the Wines of Greece brought a collection of winemakers and wines to City WInery in Chicago’s West Loop that dramatically changed a lot of people’s opinions about Greek winemaking.
For one thing, Greek winemakers have picked up on many trends in global winemaking – and have even begun growing and blending with classic grapes like Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Their wines tend to be fresh and acidic, but many are making wines that hold up well to aging even as long as a decade. What a difference a few years can make.
In terms of white wines, our favorite new grape from Greece is Assyrtiko. Lovely and so flexible in terms of the types of wines that can be made from it, many delicious with no other blend, but many others beautiful with various combinations of Chardonnay or Sauvignon blanc and other grapes indigenous to Greece
In the red category, a favorite new Greek grape is Agiorgitiko (ah-jor-git-ee-ko). Be sure to pronounce it correctly – as one of the reps explained to someone who asked, if Americans can learn to pronounce Gewurtztraminer, they can learn to pronounce Greek grape names! This grape, too, makes some lovely wines on its own or in blends with indigenous Greek grapes like Kydonitsa, Moschofilero and Xinomavro.
We were more than pleasantly surprised at the quality of the wines at this event. It was a unique educational opportunity to experience the viniculure of a country that has not previously been known for fine wines. Since my daughter lived in Greece for almost a year while on her world tour back in the late 90s, it’s an extra special pleasure to see how far the country has come in creating delicious wines. You’ll need to consult with your wine vendor or Binny’s to see about getting particular wines through the importers. Here are a few that stood out at the tasting:
Tsantali Rapsani Reserve Red 2012. ***** This vineyard is in northern Greece, near Italian vineyards that grow Barolo. Grapes: Xinomavro, Krassato, Stavroto. Imported by Fantis Imports, Inc.
Domaine Costa Lazaridi Amethystos White 2016. ***** Grapes: Sauvignon Blanc, Assyrtiko. Serve this 5-star lovely with seafood or grilled fish. Imported by Nestor Imports, Inc.
Argyros Estate Atlantis White 2016. ***** Grapes: Assyrtiko, Ahtiri, Aidani. This blend contains 90% Assyrtiko yet takes on just the right subtleties with the small addition of 5% of each of the other grapes. Imported by Athenee Importers.
Wine Art Estate Idisma Drios Assyrtiko 2016. ***** Grapes: Assyrtiko only. Compare this to a dry Riesling and enjoy the same ways.
Lantides Winery Nemea Lantides 2012. ***** Grapes: Agiorgitiko only. This wine can be aged up to 10 years. It’s excellent for an aperitif. The winery grows 60-70% of its own grapes and buys the rest from trusted sources. Imported by Dionysos Imports.
Greek Wine Cellars GWC Santorini 2016. ***** Grapes: Assyrtiko only. Grown from really earthy old vines. Volcanic soils and the nightly sea mist mineralize this wine. Imported by Fotis & Son Imports.
Domaine Hatzimichalis Estate Hatzimichalis Lefkos White 2016. **** Grapes: Sauvignon Blanc, Malagousia, Robota. This vineyard is located one hour north of Athens. Serve this white with grilled chicken, fresh salads or pork. Imported by Fantis Imports.
Bairaktaris Winery Old Monolithos Red 2012. **** Grapes: Agiorgitiko only. This wine is the epitome of old-world winemaking and the commitment to making wines that taste of their place. Pair with pork, steak, burger, or aged yellow cheese.
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.
I’m a fair weather fan. I’m not proud, but that’s how it is. For example, for many decades my last memory of getting excited about baseball was when the Chicago White Sox won the pennant in 1959 (okay, I’m old).
However, I am open-minded. Like a few years later, ahem, in 1995 I was taken to my first baseball game in forever at the then-brand-new stadium of the Cleveland Indians. Within 4 plays-including a super-powered at-bat and an incredible spinning, on-the-fly catch-and-fire to first base – I was on my feet yelling to my companion: “Oh, my God, this isn’t how they played baseball last time I watched!”
Along those lines, I used to think I didn’t much like white wines. The words “sauvignon blanc” pretty much made my mind go blank. I spent many years in comfortable ignorance. But it’s been a long time since I tested white wines, and things seem to have gotten a lot more sophisticated since I last paid attention.
Morro Bay (Split Oak Estates) 2009, California. Light, crisp, bright and dry. Delicious served with rich, double-cream D’aufinois cheese (like Brie with pepper). Winemaker says vanilla and pineapple, and here’s the rest.
My verdict: Sensuous and sexy ♪ ♪ ♪
La Petite Perriere 2011, France. Dry, rich, well-blended with perfume-y fruit notes, almost oaky like a chardonnay. Winemaker says ripe exotic fruits, refreshing and complex, and here’s the rest.
My verdict: Makes me feel rich ♪ ♪ ♪
Goldwater Sauvignon Blanc 2010, New Zealand. Creamy, soft white, a bit less astringent than some sauvignon blancs. Gentle and flavorful. I could easily drink this every summer afternoon and convince myself the rest of the tasks on my agenda don’t matter. Winemaker says rich, ripe fruits and crisp feel, and here’s the rest.
My verdict: Dangerously drinkable ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪
Jaja Sauvignon Blanc 2010, France. Crisp, pleasant, light. Winemaker says flowers and blackcurrants and zesty, and here’s the rest.
My verdict: Very nice edition of SB ♪ ♪ ♪
Los Vascos 2011, Chile. Smooth, rounded, full-bodied, great with food. Tastes good even with sweet ‘n’ sour dishes. No kidding-I drank it with a meal that included pickled beets and vinegar-dressed slaw! A winner. Winemaker says fruit, spices and persistent, and here’s the rest.
My verdict: Luscious, companionable, easy to drink. ♪ ♪ ♪ ♪
Lafite Reserve Speciale Bordeaux Blanc 2010, France. Very smooth and rich. Blend of Semillon and Sauvignon grapes yields rounder flavor. Winemaker says vivacious, full and balanced, and here’s the rest.
My verdict: Gentle and drinkable. A nice introduction to sauvignon blanc for newbies. ♪ ♪ ♪
Merlin’s Barrow Sauvignon Blanc 2009, Marlborough, New Zealand. Crisp, light, drinkable. Good with light and/or spicy foods. Winemaker says star-bright, green-hued wine leaps from the glass with passion fruit, grapefruit and pineapple perfumes and here’s the rest. (As of this writing the half-case sale on this link is expired, but look for the winemaker’s notes lower on the page).
My verdict: Crisp and delicious alone or with foods. ♪ ♪ ♪