Category Archives: wine

South African wines surprise and delight

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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 Roadshow held 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:

  • Haute Cabriere Chardonnay/Pinot Noir 2018, Robinson & Sinclair. SRP ~$15.
  • Brut NV Rosé – 50/50 Chardonnay-Pinot Noir, Graham Beck. This one gets 4-6 hours of skin contact SRP ~$20.
  • Oak Lane Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon 2017, Beau Joubert. Imported by Wein-Bauer. SRP ~$9.
  • Boschendal Brut Rosé NV, DGB. Imported by Pacific Highway. SRP ~$21. This one was a BIG favorite at the tasting.
  • Bellingham Old Vine Chenin Blanc 2016, DGB. Made from grapes grown in 45-year-old vineyards.
  • Bellingham Bernard-series SMV 2014, DGB. Great with heavy meats.
  • Boschendal Cabernet, DGB. A lovely, gentle red. SRP ~$20.
  • Glenelly Estate Reserve 2012. SRP ~$25.
  • 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.
  • Beaumont Family Wines Hope Marguerite 2018. 100% Chenin Blanc. Named after Beaumont’s grandmother, this wine is green-ish, light, elegant, grown on shale soils.
  • Capensis Chardonnay 2015. 100% Chardonnay. Made by Beeslaar.
  • 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.
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5 summer pleasures for home and in Chicago restaurants

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Every nice day in summer is another great excuse to indulge yourself – after you work, do your chores and exercise of course, right? Everywhere you turn in Chicago – and online of course – another opportunity presents itself to help you get creative with your enjoyment. Here are just a few restaurant ideas and home cooking/drinking products to get you rolling:

River Roast is celebrating summer with their weekday happy hour Oysters & Rosé special. Every weekday from 3 to 5 pm enjoy a dozen oysters and bottle of Rose wine for $35. Sit at the bar or along the river soaking in the sun all while enjoying a refreshing summer combo that’s irresistible.

And while you’re dreaming about enjoying the outdoors, think about having friends over – or just treating yourself – and serving something unique and easy: Sangria in cans, the most popular product made by Round Barn Winery, located in the hills of Southwestern Michigan, complete with tasting room. A fizzy, lightly sweet version of the drink beloved by so many in Spain, this Sangria is a nice combination of fruit, dry wine and sweetness. Be aware of the calories, though. A single 12-ounce can packs a whopping 290 calories, so feel free to consider this dessert…

Oh, and if you’ve got your grill out and ready to go, here’s a spice company that puts together some really tasty combos to rub on your meat, poultry and even vegetables. Pereg Natural Foods offers classic blends that are made from fresh, natural, 100% pure spices, bringing more than 100 years of expertise and quality to the table. Get to know some of these Middle Eastern-style secrets when the grill heats up.

Pereg’s Koobah starts with baharat, a ubiquitous Israeli and Mediterranean staple, and then adds warm layers of cinnamon, allspice, rose, nutmeg, and cardamom for a complex finish. It makes an excellent dry rub for grilled or roast lamb, salmon, and chicken, sprinkled into burgers, mixed with hummus, or tossed onto vegetables (particularly corn on the cob and eggplant) before roasting. Use their Kabab seasoning to douse cubes of chicken, beef, or lamb liberally with Pereg’s hearty mash-up (paprika, black pepper, coriander, garlic, and cumin). Thread on skewers with vegetables of your choice, and grill over medium heat until fully cooked. Serve on warm pita bread with tahini and cucumber salad for an authentic version of Israeli street food. And check out their special take on Shawarma and Ras El Hanout plus some sweet mix seasonings.

Casati’s, the family owned, modern Italian restaurant – claiming  designation as home to the “healthiest pizza in Chicago” – offers Pinsa creations, which offer 90% less fat, carbs, and gluten than traditional pizzCasati’s, which is home to a new 42-seat, pet-friendly patio, will also offer 40% off specialty cocktails and wine during lunch. Owned and operated by Italy-native Stefano Casati, and run by Michelin Star Chef Christian Fantoni, Casati’s aims to bring light, fresh, healthy, and authentic tastes of Italy to Chicago’s Lincoln Park.

Carnivale Restaurant, 702 W. Fulton St. Things are heating up outside AND inside at Carnivale, where  talented chefs and mixologists have created a new Lounge menu that features a Charcuterie Tabla, Sliders, Carnivale Mai-Tai, Jackie’s Daiquiri, and much more! Lounge open: Monday – Thursday from 4-10, Friday 4-11, Saturday 5-11, Sunday 5-9. *Every Weekday, enjoy Happy Hour from 4-6:30pm.

Coming soon: more beverage ideas perfect for summer sipping.

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Wine wisdom from Matt Crafton of luxury Chateau Montelena wines

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Chateau Montelena comes to Chicago at Maple & Ash
Chateau Montelena comes to Chicago at Maple & Ash

Some wineries bring their wines to market via huge gatherings of trade and media reps, complete with educational seminars, panel presentations, slide shows, and so on. With luxury producers like Chateau Montelena, it’s more usual to showcase their wares by serving them in the conditions for which they’re designed – small groups that encourage conversation and allow the wines to reveal their true beauty over a shared meal of delicious food.

Winemaker Matt Crafton talks about Chateau Montelena
Winemaker Matt Crafton talks about Chateau Montelena

That’s the approach Matt Crafton, chief winemaker at Chateau Montelena in Napa Valley, takes when he brings a curated selection of his wines to a city. He works with local executive chefs to pair their creations and his with a deft and definitive touch. In Chicago recently, he worked with chefs at Maple & Ash, 8 W. Maple, to construct a menu ideally suited to the wines – perfect pairings for the luxury whites and reds he brought to represent the best of the Chateau’s small-production vineyard.

Crafton, who says he enjoys having his 7-, 5- and 1-year-old kids follow him around the vineyard, often checks his smartphone, even when he’s out of town, to see how the vines are faring. The winery has sensors all over the vineyard that constantly send stats about water levels to his phone. Those numbers tell him when the vines are being stressed – even before the leaves begin to show physical signs such as curling or turning – so that he can order countermeasures if needed.

Over a meal of meticulously paired and perfectly prepared dishes created by the chefs at avec Restaurant, 615 W. Randolph, Crafton generously shared a few of his thoughts and insights about wine in general and Chateau Montelena in particular.

Special points of his wine wisdom:

  • Be on the watch. The Bordeaux wine region in France has recently been spraying its vines with copper sulfate in order to control a mildew infestation. This is not good for the soil long term – and thus for the wines.
  • Food for thought: Seven percent of the entire human population is left-handed. In the wine making business, the share is forty percent.
  • Labeling a wine – or anything – “organic” is nearly meaningless in our current state of affairs. There are simply too few controls. Sustainable growing is, instead, the ideal for which we all should be striving.
  • Wine is a delicate custom expression of each terroir – and naturally varies according to the year’s weather and soil conditions. If you’re looking for the same experience every year in your beverage, drink beer.
  • When you want to age a wine, you’ll get a better result with 1.5-liter bottles than the usual 750 ml size. Why? Because with the same cork, you get twice the volume, which slows down the process.
  • Using an aerator is good, but it cannot remotely compare to actually aging a wine. Oak and grape skins contribute tannins. Cement and clay hold oxygen while keeping the fruit fresh. Aerators just add ambient air.
  • American oak is looser-grained and can contribute flavors like coconut, dill and vanilla. French oak is more subtle. Spanish wines, for example, use a lot of American oak and tend to have a vanilla aroma.
  • If you the big Italian red wines like Barolo but find yourself not enjoying somewhat lesser Italian reds, it may be you are not consuming them along with food – the experience for which they are specifically made.
Beautiful - Montelena Estate Cab 2005
Beautiful – Montelena Estate Cab 2005

Special points about Chateau Montelena:

  • Chateau Montelena was one of the California wineries that came crashing onto the world stage with the famous “Judgment of Paris” back in the 70s when Napa Valley wines, red and white, received top honors over France’s finest – as decided by French judges doing blind tastings.
  • Chateau Montelena sets aside 5 to 10% of every vintage of Chardonnay and Cabernet each year and cellars it so that customers who cannot or choose not to age a bottle on their own will be able five years hence to purchase one that shows off how well that vintage has aged in the bottle.
  • Their Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon (SRP ~$65), typically blended with Merlot or sometimes Cabernet Franc – is made to be approachable when young.
  • Their Chateau Montelena Estate Cabernet (SRP ~$175) is never blended with Merlot – because they don’t grow those grapes on the estate –  but sometimes with Petit Verdot. This gem takes time to reach its peak and will open up much more after a longer time in the bottle.
  • The estate consists of 100 acres behind the Chateau and is partly situated on two mountain ranges that each contribute a different kind of soil – one of volcanic ash and the other mineral-rich from having been under the sea.

Crafton said he likes to bring Chateau Montelena to others around the country in order to demonstrate what their values are. “We take our wines very seriously,” Crafton said. “But we try not to take ourselves too seriously. After all, it [making wine] is about making people happy.”

Some of the luxury wines he brought to Chicago included:

Happily, when you’re looking for that special wine you want to save for the future or that special wine you want to drink to celebrate a momentous or even just a festive occasion, you can frequently find Chateau Montelena wines at Binny’s, Mariano’s, and many small wine shops and restaurants in and around Chicago.

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Loire Valley Wines refresh and delight

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Spring to Loire 2019 Chicago at J. Parker Atrium
Spring to Loire 2019 Chicago at J. Parker Atrium

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.

Jamel Freeman presents Spring to Loire seminars
Jamel Freeman presents Spring to Loire seminars

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.
  • Excellent value.
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.
  • Loire Valley:
    • 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/.
Sparklings
  • Vouvray NV, Domaine VIgneau-Chevreau. A sparkling with lots of flint, minerality. 100% Chenin Blanc from 25 year old grapes. Just delicious! SRP ~$23-26.
  • Jean-Francois Merieau Vouvray 2012. 80% Chenin Blanc, 20% Sauvignon Blanc. Seashell minerality and a nose of floral notes and white peaches. SRP ~$19.
Whites
  • Vincent Grall Sancerre 2017. This wine is the benchmark for Sauvignon Blanc in Loire Valley. Aged in oak or acadia wood. SRP ~$26.
  • Domaine Paul Buisse Touraine 2017. 100% Sauvignon Blanc. A lovely value-priced white with seashell minerality on the palate; sage, bell pepper and crushed chalk aromas SRP ~$13.
  • Vignobles Gibault Touraine-Chenonceaux 2017. 100% Sauvgnon Blanc. Long, slow fermentation pulls out the aromatics, and this wine features rich notes of pears. ~$21
  • Henry Pelle Menetou-Salon 2017. 100% Sauvignon Blanc. A nose of organic white peach blossoms, yellow apple flesh. Rich tasting white. SRP ~$23.
Reds
  • Sancerre 2016 Joseph Mellot. 100% Pinot Noir. Complex with a long finish. Similar in characteristics to Northern side of Burgundy.

Be sure to look for our next post on pairing Loire Valley wines with flowers!!

Any way you look at it, you’re almost guaranteed to have an enjoyable wine when you choose from the broad selection of Loire Valley Wines.
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Lovely Bordeaux and Burgundy wines visit Chicago

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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.
Wines at Somm Like It Bordeaux
Wines at Somm Like It Bordeaux

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. 

By the way, if you’re ever confused about Bordeaux and Burgundy, read this from the Wine Spectator for a down-to-earth explanation. Below are a few of the many they showcased in Chicago in 2019:
 
WHITES
Chateau Petit-Freylong, Cuvee Izzy 2015. Rich, stone fruit bubbly from Bordeaux made from early-picked Sauvignon Blanc, this was 5-star all the way. Importer: Sweiss Group, LLC. SPR ~$22.
Chateau de sours, La Source Blanc 2011. This blend of 80% Sauvignon Blanc and 20% Semillon will please nearly anyone. SRP $35.
 
REDS
Domaines Baron de Rothschild (Lafite), Legende 2012. Beautiful blend of 70% Cabernet Sauvignon and the rest Merlot. Imported by Esprit du Vin. SRP $49.99
Chateau Lafitte Laujac 2011. Made from grapes grown in very well drained soils in the Medoc region, this one spent a full year in barrels. 60% Cabernet, 35% Merlot, 5% Petit Verdot. Lovely.
ROSÉS
Chateau Maurac 2012. Blended from Cabernet and Merlot from the Haut-Medoc area and imported by Michael Corso Selections. SRP $29.99.
Chateau de Sours, Reserve de Sours sparkling Rosé. A lovely sparkling wine from Bordeaux made of 87% Merlot and 13% Cabernet and imported by Old Bridge Cellars. SRP ~$20.
For more information about the Bordeaux wine regions, read here.
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Heritage Wine Cellars brings Boisset Collection highights to Chicago

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Quite wonderful, the variety of burgundies and Beaujolais wines produced from grapes that grow in very similar terroirs – found both along the left and right banks of the river valley, and up and down the length of Burgundy – as well as those grown in similar climate and soil conditions in parts of California. Similar terroirs, yet producing wines with remarkably distinct qualities that are easily identified by sommeliers – and clear enough to the rest of us when pointed out.

Recently Heritage Wine Cellars brought Chicagoans a “Tour de Terroir” that showcased these distinct qualities. The tour showcased selections of wines from the Boisset Collection at a lovely private event space at Sunda, where attendees enjoyed excellent finger fare to accompany the wines.

Boisset is a family-owned collection of historic and unique wineries bound together by a common cause: authentic, terroir-driven wines that are in harmony with their history, their future and the land and people essential to their existence. Their family includes wineries in some of the world’s preeminent terroir such as Cote d’Or, Beaujolais, Rhone Valley, California’s Russian River Valley and Napa Valley. And each house retains its unique history, identity and style, while still distinctively expressing their unique terroir.

Boisset was founded in 1961 by Jean-Claude and Claudine Boisset, then a young couple living in the heart of Burgundy. They gradually acquired vineyards and wineries on two continents and forged an identity as the leading wine producer in Burgundy. Now under the leadership of their son, Jean-Charles, Boisset welcomes and fosters the collaboration of France and America in a profound belief that sharing our knowledge and wisdom will deepen and enrich the world of wine and also increase appreciation and provide even more exposure for each region’s diversity and uniqueness.

You will know you are drinking a wine from the luxury Boisset collection when you choose from one of the following names: Pierreux, Momessin, J. Moreau & Fils, Bouchard Aine & Fils, Jean-Claude Boisset, Domaine de la Vougeraie and Domaine Henri Maire, and look for even more wineries on the Boisset website. Below are a few of the many wines that were remarkable in the recent Chicago  tasting, including two value-priced whites (a sparkling and a still – the last two in the listings).

REDS
Domaine de la Vougeraie
Nuits-St-Georges 1er Cru “Les Corvees Pagets” 2014 – SRP $108
Nuits-St-Georges “Clos de Thorey” Monopole 1er Cru 2015 – SRP $121
Vougeot “Clos du Prieure” Monopole 2015 – SRP $112

Mommessin
Moulin-a-Vent 2016 – SRP $23

WHITES
Bouchard Aine & Fils
Chassagne-Montrachet 1er cru 2017 – SRP $111

J. Moreau & Fils
Chablis “Valmur” Grand Cru 2017 – SRP $99
Chablis “Les Close” Grand Cru 2017 – SRP $99

Jean-Claude Boisset
Saint-Aubin “Sur Gamay” 1er Cru 2017 – SRP $66

Domaines Maire & Fils, Jura
Cotes e Jura Heritage Tradition 2018 – SRP $15
Sparkling: Cremant de Jura Brut Jurassique N/V – SRP $16.25

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Consider these wine gems from France, California, and Italy

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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.

Don’t know if you’d even be able to find them all, but in case you’re a huge fan and want some new resources for Italian wines, here’s the complete listing of producers for participating wines and wineries in the Gambero Rosso Tre Bicchieri USA tour. Have a wonderful time browsing!

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River Roast chef freely shares expertise

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RIver Roast Executive Chef Cedric Harden
RIver Roast Executive Chef Cedric Harden

Surprised and delighted to learn that River Roast, 315 N. LaSalle St., offers cooking classes. Well, more like cooking demos because you get to watch rather than participate. Besides the beautiful and eclectic decorations in the space, the great view of the river and the delicious foods you get to eat, one of the most positive things about these sessions is the fact that you get to ask River Roast Executive Chef Cedric Harden any cooking question you want (preferably related to the dish he’s preparing right in front of you – when you sit at the bar, which we highly recommend), and he gives you the straight dope  from his extensive professional experience.

Chef team Cedric and Eric
Chef team Cedric and Eric

Attending a recent class felt like the most fun you can have in downtown Chicago on a regular Saturday afternoon. That day Chef Eric Lees, Chef de Cuisine at Spiaggia, a sister restaurant in the Levy Group of fine establishments, was on hand to assist. He and Chef Cedric put on a truly down-to-earth demonstration of what it’s like to invent and to execute an original dish.

Chef's beautifully imagined surprise appetizer
Chef’s beautifully imagined surprise appetizer

It was pure pleasure watching the construction of the spring greens salad at this Cooking with Spring Ingredients session. Oh, and before the first course, the chef surprised us with an appetizer that wasn’t on the menu – a lovely concoction of salumi slices, wedges of fresh fig, and fresh arugula nestled atop a creamy puddle of locally made burrata. Delicious. Back to the spring salad. Have you heard of using shaved raw asparagus along with steamed asparagus tips together in a salad? It’s a cool idea that works very well, especially when dressed with a lovely handmade Green Goddess dressing. The freshness of all the flavors and the whole combination made all the students’ tongues happy. And that was just a single one of the many interesting ideas and tricks the chef gave his guests. He shared his knowledge generously, from talking about where to learn knife skills to explaining why and how to salt the water for pasta (you’ll be shocked to hear what he suggests!).

River Roast cooking class's fabulous chicken entree with rich pan sauce
River Roast cooking class’s fabulous chicken entree with rich pan sauce

Included in the price (~$65) you’ll be served a number of small cocktails/wines throughout the class. Just enough to give a pleasant buzz on a sunny Saturday afternoon. But it’ll undoubtedly work just as well on a cloudy one.

The winter series of cooking demos is finished now, and we are eagerly awaiting word on the new series. This is one of the most delightful ways to spend a Saturday afternoon that we can imagine. A bit of spirits, a lot of delicious food, and a generous helping of professional knowledge – a win-win in anybody’s book. Have already told friends about how much fun this was, and we can’t wait to get the new schedule.

 

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Fernández Family El Vinculo wines are all about quality

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Some Italian, South American and Spanish wine makers of old focused their attention on producing the most possible wine to sell – because the citizens of their countries loved wine and consumed it in large quantities as part of their everyday routines. These days, many of those same wineries have gone completely over to focusing on  high quality fine wines. The El Vinculo estate winery in Spain is one such vineyard.

The Fernández family is passionate about creating a legacy that reclaims the quality inherent in the heritage of D.O. LaMancha, despite the years during which quantity goals overshadowed quality. They make wines that call upon your highest spirit to appreciate them in full. Founding father Alejandro makes sure all the wines he produces at El Vinculo – ever since the estate began in 1999 – are unique in quality and class. He leases from selected growers of grape varieties that are indigenous to the terroirs of La Mancha. Below are brief descriptions of a few examples of wines produced to his rigorous standards.

2014 El Vinculo Alejairen
2014 El Vinculo Alejairen

El Vinculo Alejairen 2015 DO La Mancha. Made with 100% Airen and the only white wine made by the Fernandez family. This golden white wine has the subtleties and layers of flavor we ususally associate with a culinary masterpiece – yes, it’s so rich and full that it tastes almost like food. Look for rich, unctuous flavors of ripe apricot, brioche honeycomb, creme brulee and soft white flower notes in both the nose and the palate.

El Vinculo 2013 Crianza D.O. LaMancha. 100% Tempranillo. This uniquely intense wine boasts savory notes of spice and smoke along with plum and violet in the nose. Be aware of rich notes of ripe plums, toasted wood, fresh tobacco, barbeque spice and vanilla liquor – earthy and complex, with well-defined tannins and a persistent finish. Potent flavors and good acidity yield to cool sensations on the tongue.

2015 Condado de Haza Crianza
2015 Condado de Haza Crianza

Condado de Haza 2015 Crianza, D.O. Ribera del Duero. 100% estate-owned Tempranillo. Enjoy the intense balsamic and ripe fruit aromas as they morph into undertones of sweet spice that develop from the wine’s extended aging in neutral American oak. It is fresh but also fleshy, with round tannins and beautiful balance that lead to a very long finish.The weather this vintage produced superb quality in the grapes.

2014 Tinto Pesquera Crianza
2014 Tinto Pesquera Crianza

Tinto Pesquera 2014 Crianza, D.O. Ribera del Duero. 100% estate-owned Tempranillo. Burgundy in color with a soft fuchsia rim, this soft, elegant wine offers aromas of red fruit, candied apples, vanilla and nutmeg. It’s silky on the mid-palate with its well-rounded tannins and satisfies the most demanding palates with its long velvety finish. Enjoy it now, or lay it down to for up to several years.

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Susana Balbo performs wine magic in Mendoza, Argentina

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Susana Balbo rosé
Susana Balbo rosé
BenMarco Cabernet Sauvignon
BenMarco Cabernet Sauvignon

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!

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