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.
Always a pleasure to discover new products that touch us in some way – flavor being, of course, the #1 consideration. But sometimes the health benefits are significant, and sometimes the environmental impact is a blessing that results from the thoughtul care given by the entrepreneurs to the making of their products. And sometimes it’s just about the pleasure of consuming!
Vegetarian Traveler Protein Toppers. The idea is to provide plant-based protein snacks/toppers that are good for you and good for the planet. And I was slightly surprised but really happy that these things are pretty darn good. One whole snack bag (1.25 oz, ~150 calories) provides as much protein as two and a half eggs. Plus, they are a whole lot less trouble to peel, since they don’t actually have to be peeled. Crispy, crunchy, full of protein, and lightly salted for your eating enjoyment. Tried these in plain Greek yogurt, but didn’t find that too appealing, texture-wise. But it sure was a big hit of protein – first time ever my Fitbit reported 46% protein in my daily stats. Have since found I like them just straight out of the bag as a snack or meal supplement. Nice healthier substitute for the allure of the dreaded potato chip…
The toppers come in three flavors, all of which involve some form of soy. So if you’re sensitive to that, these aren’t for you. But otherwise, these mixtures make a terrific, easy, relatively low-fat way to painlessly add extra plant-based protein to your diet – and contribute mightily to the health of our beloved planet Earth. Because the amount of land we have to use to grow food for those animals is staggering – and in doing so, we are destroying the forests our atmosphere depends on. Not available in stores in Chicago yet, you can buy these online from Amazon at $24.99 for a 4-pack of all three varieties. Free shipping if you’ve got Amazon Prime. Works out to about $2 a serving.
Petal Sparkling Botanical Blends. This brand makes a line of very lightly sweetened botanical-based sparkling beverages that make great foundations for cocktails or as refreshing bubbly beverages on their own. Flavors include several rose petal-infused types as well as lemongrass-dandelion, elderberry with white tea flowers, and peach marigold. You can imagine how aromatic and delicate these are just from the titles! Each 12-ounce can is only 10-15 calories, due to the 2-3 grams of added sugar-in-the-form-of-agave in each can. Compare that to the typical 39 grams – nearly 10 teaspoons – in a regular 12-ounce soda.
The rose aroma is lovely, though I usually like it in cosmetics more than food. The rose flavor was delicate but seemed a little artificial-tasting – as we are wont to find most anything made with rose flavor. The peach marigold was very nice and tasted only a tiny bit artificial. You can buy these online or at a number of Chicago locations – use their handy store locator here. Whether you worry about artificial sweeteners or heavily sugar-sweetened drinks, and you’re looking for a unique beverage to help you cut down on soda consumption, these could make a good alternative.
Lucien Albrecht Crémant d/Alsace Brut Rosé. If you love a nice Pinot Noir, chances are you’ll enjoy this dry sparkling wine made with 100% Pinot Noir grapes. We have always had enjoyable experiences with wines by Lucien Albrecht.
With this one you’ll appreciate the nice balance – crisp acidity, with a creamy texture and long finish. This salmon-colored bubbly is made the same way genuine Champagne is – i.e., method traditionelle – and aged 14 to 16 months on the lees. Look for flavors of strawberry and wild cherry fruit that develop from the Crémant grapes grown in the lower end of the richly biodiverse soils on the slopes surrounding Orschwihr near the Vosges mountains. Under $20 and available at most wine merchants.
Miners Mix All Natural Spice Blends. We’ve all tried some of the many meat rub products out there. In a lot of cases we’ve discovered they’re loaded with salt. So it was with some skepticism we set out to try some of samples graciously provided by Miners Mix. They’re tagline is, “If it didn’t exist in 1850, it ain’t in here!” The point of which is to say the mixes are not loaded with artificial preservatives, HFCS, MSG or other artificial flavor enhancers. The heat in the spicier mixes comes straight from chiles instead of capsaicin oil.
In addition to the powerful flavors of these rubs, you’ll also get a powerful but pleasant shock to the tongue and tastebuds when you realize with the first bite that there’s decidedly less salt in these than many other seasonings with similar profiles. Started by a guy who loved grilling and eating BBQ from an early age, the company was conceived during a year-long visit to Australia where his California family felt terribly deprived of their favorite Mexican dishes. Returning home, his love of chorizo led him to want to create a better-tasting, less-fatty version of it. After much persuasion from friends and family, he started commercializing his recipe. And now you and I can get these delicious, lower-salt magic formulas to transform our grilled and baked dishes. Treat yourself to one of their dozen varieties here.
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/.
It’s always a joy to have the winemakers of France come to Chicago, and particularly delightful to taste the wines of Bordeaux in our fair city. Vins de Bordeaux held a tasting at Virtue Restaurant in Hyde Park that proved especially enlightening and enjoyable. As with many grape-growing lands that depend on rivers, two of them – River Garonne and the Dordogne – flow through Bordeaux. One way to categorize their red wines is to note that those from the Left Bank tend to blend more with Merlot, while wines from the Right Bank tend to blend more with Cabernet Sauvignon.
Bordeaux wines come from 65 different appellations, many of which you’ll recognize: Cotes de Bordeaux (“cotes” denotes hillsides that overlook the right banks of the Garonne and the Dordogne Rivers), Saint-Emilion, Pomerol & Fronsac, Medoc and Graves. The region produces dry whites (11% of their production) that are fresh and vibrant with good natural acidity. Bordeaux sweet whites are made from grapes affected by botrytis. They’re medium- to full-bodied and are produced mainly in Sauternes and Barsac in the southern part of Bordeaux.
As we continue dealing with the raging contest between spring and the dregs of winter here in Chicago, now’s a perfect time to turn your thoughts to lovey libations. Herewith we present for your consideration a few items we’ve sampled recently.
Bouchard Pere et Fils recently brought to Chicago a broad array of beautiful Pinot Noirs from Burgundy. The selection represents the efforts of the tall, slender, sophisticated Cellar Master Frédéric Weber, who spoke with quiet glowing happiness of the making of the current vintage. “2017 was a vintage with good growing conditions where our decisions in the vineyard transformed it into a compelling vintage… A truly pleasurable vintage ready to enjoy now.” He also promised that all these wines will be available in the U.S. by April. There were several Binny’s scouts in attendance so chances are good they’ll be able to get you these wines. At the same event, guests sampled another brand from among the Henriot Maisons & Domaines, a variety of William Fevre white wines grown in an area near Burgundy. Herewith, a few of the many lovely wines from these two iconic vineyards:
Among the Bouchard Pere & Fils Pinot Noirs were selections from Villages (the lowest level of the Burgundian hillside), Premier Cru (next highest area), and Grand Cru (highest elevation). Noteworthy among the Villages selections of 100% Pinot Noir grapes were:
Santenay Côte de Beaune, a worthy base-level burgundy wine.
Vosne-Romanée Côte de Nuits. Elegant, velvety, with charm and great length.
Chambolle-Musigny, 2017. Grown in soils ideally suited to produce elegant wines; aged 13 months in oak.
Gevrey-Chambertin Côte de Nuits. This area has the highest concentration of Grand Cru reds. These are aged 13 months in oak and are known for strength and velvetiness.
Among the Premier Crus:
Beaune Gréve Vigne de l’Enfant Jésus (Domaine) – an exceptionally smooth wine, one of the stars at Bouchard Pere et Fils
Volnay Les Casillerets Côte de Beaune- beautifully smooth blending with gentle tannins
Volnay Taillepieds (Domaine) Côte de Beaune – again beautifully blended with soft tannins
And among the Grand Crus our favorite was:
Echézeaux Cote de Nuits
Consult the William Fevre website for more information about the delicate yet full-tasting Chablis wines Winemaster Weber brought to the party in Chicago. Truly a luscious collection.
Lucas & Lewellen Estate Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Valley View 2016. Santa Ynez Valley. 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 7.5% Petit Verdot, 7.5% Malbec. The warm days and cool nights of the Santa Ynez Valley facilitate a long, gentle growing season, and grapes grown in the Valley View vineyard there make fine wines. This wine is carefully blended to produce a distinctive, layered taste of blackberry and fig jam on the palate with silky tannins and a long finish. It’s marvelous with meat, pasta or, basically, anything your heart desires. SRP ~$25
Tre Bicchieri 2019 Gambero Rosso Tre Bicchieri USA tour‘s recent stop in Chicago brought us a broad selection of lovely special Italian wines. Many stood out this year at the show which was held again in the beautiful spaces of the Bridgeport Arts Center. The exhibition is designed to let members of trade and media in various cities across the U.S. experience the wide variety of Italian wines that have reached the highest standards.
If you’re a fan of naturally sparkling wine, consider one showcased in this show from Lusvardi, Italy. While we here in the US grew up with “spumante” as something overly sweet and extremely basic, Lusvardi now makes a line of sophisticated bubblies, several of which are made with no added sugar. We liked the Lusvardi Brut Lambrusco Dell’Emilia IGP – dry but with just a little sugar added – that we tasted at the show. Every year Tre Bicchieri celebrates Italian wines that have gained the coveted “Three Glasses” designation from a large cadre of experienced judges. Another notable bubbly, somewhat sweeter but with no added sugar, was the red Senzafondo Lambrusco Dell’Emilia IGP. These wines are made from grapes grown on a small 35-acre family farm and vinified with love.
A couple of other excellent listings from “Tre Bicchieri” (Three Glasses) participants:
San Salvatore Pian di Stio, a lovely white wine from Campania, available in the US for ~$40.
Fattori Nicolucci Romagna Sangiovese Sup Predappio di Predappio V. del Generale Ris. 2015, another beautiful white wine grown on a family farm in Emilia Romagna.
Champagne makers and bubbly makers everywhere are really happy that many of us Americans have begun picking up on the French and European practice of drinking bubbles for every day pleasure instead of reserving those delightful champagnes and sparkling wines just for special occasions. Today we’re featuring three expressions from the caves of Gloria Ferrer priced in the $20-$30 range, any one of which will make you and your guests beam with pleasure as you pair the wine with some of your favorite foods.
Gloria Ferrer, for 600 years a world renowned maker of sparkling and still wines with a history of female leadership, makes multiple expressions of bubblies that combine Pinot Noir and Chardonnay grapes in quite different proportions. Gloria Ferrer’s Sonoma Brut, for example, is made with 86.5% Pinot Noir and 13.5% Chardonnay. The finished wine shows off delicate pear and floral notes backed by toasty almond. On your tongue, you’ll find lively citrus, toast and apple flavors along with a persistent effervescence, a creamy mid-palate and a toasty finish. Pair this lovely bubbly with shellfish, crab, roast chicken or sushi. Seasoning affinities include lemongrass, fennel and white pepper. Serve with hard aged and triple-cream cheeses, maybe with some Meyer lemon compote to round out the cheese course. Alc 12.5% SRP $22.
Gloria Ferrer’s Blanc de Noirs is 91.6% Pinot Noir and 8.4% Chardonnay. It serves up bright strawberry and black cherry aromas with subtle vanilla highlights. Creamy cherry, lemon and cola flavors combined come with a lush palate, lively bubbles and a persistent finish. This wine is outstanding with crab, Thai cuisine, roast pork, quail, foie gras and with semi-sweet desserts. Seasoning affinities include star anise, plum sauce and tarragon. Try pairing it with your cheese course with a triple aged Gouda or other hard aged cheeses with persimmons and hazelnuts. Alc 12.5% SRP $22.
Gloria Ferrer’s Brut Rosé is an especially lovely rendition of bubbly. Made with 60% Pinot noir and 40% Chardonnay, it has bright strawberry and Ridge aromas followed by notes of crème brûlée, Meyer lemon and green apple. It feels like a creamy mousse and keeps giving you fruit all the way to the finish where you get a touch of mineral. Pair this lovely wine with anything spicy, Asian inspired dishes, barbecue pork ribs or grilled seafood. This rosé is outstanding with many varieties of goat cheese served with olives and herbed nuts. Only 2000 cases produced. Alc 12.5% SRP $29. We really love this delicate and delicious bubbly!
Maison Champagne Henriot has been making beautiful champagnes for generations. The family is still running the winery and making the precious wines with the same care and attention they have always lavished on their creations. Recently the lovely Katie Parker, Regional Sales Director for Henriot Maison in central U.S., brought several expressions of this line of fine champagnes for wine dinner guests to try in combination with chef-paired pasta dishes specially created by the experts at Spiaggia, 980 N. Michigan. Truly a memorable way to enjoy these luscious champagnes and the creative genius of Spiaggia’s culinary team, Chefs Tony Mantuano and Joe Flamm, along with Rachel Lowe, one of only 5 female Master Sommeliers in the world, who manages the restaurant’s extensive wine collection.
Maison Henriot invited the chefs to taste the wines and invent pasta dishes that would showcase how perfectly the various expressions pair with the right pasta. The point is, said Maison Henriot rep Katie Parker, glorious champagnes don’t have to be relegated to only haute cuisine or special occasions. They are equally appropriate with simple, beautifully prepared dishes.
The chefs at Spiaggia, of course, don’t stint on their creativity when designing pasta dishes. Seeing that Spiaggia bills itself a “modern Italian” restaurant, it’s not surprising that some of these items were extraordinary in themselves – and truly magnificent with the paired champagne. A favorite was the Aglio e Olio Agnolotti, a magical creation from the Spiaggia kitchen that fairly dripped creamy richness, both from the filling in the hand-made pasta and the richly aromatic olive oil drizzle, paired with Henriot’s Brut Souverain. This champagne is a classic, elegant expression that’s a mix of 50% Chardonnay, 45% Pinot noir and 5% Pinot Meunier. Aged a minimum of four years, it shows a nice minerality along with wonderfully lively with notes of white flowers and citrus on the nose. On the palate, brioche and white fruit notes lead to a clean and fresh finish. We so had to close our eyes on this combination!
The Brut Blanc de Blancs is non-vintage but is blended with up to 40% of reserve wine from other excellent years. The mix of 50% Chardonnay, 45% Pinot Noir and 5% Pinot Meunier is aged a minimum of four years and results in good minerality and fresh bouquet, yet shows full body and power on the palate. Notes of brioche intermingle with quince jelly and acacia honey along with a fresh and wonderfully long finish.
Other expressions include the Brut Rosé, Cuvee 38, and theirt wo vintage 2008 Millésimé champagnes, Brut and Rosé. Champagne Henriot Cellar Master Laurent Fresnet uses no oak in the house’s pure Chardonnay expressions, so if you’re of the no-oak-thank-you persuasion, you’ll find these champagnes highlight all the other wondrous qualities of the grapes. Maison Champagne Henriot continues to do justice to the long revered art of producing fine champagnes. Special occasion or simple pasta, you and your guests will feel rewarded no matter which expression you choose.