Category Archives: Chardonnay

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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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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Association President tells passionate story of Sonoma County Winegrowers

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Map of Sonoma County wine region
Map of Sonoma County wine region

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.

Karissa Kruse in her vineyard mode
Karissa Kruse in her vineyard mode

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.

The final course, a lovely selection of cheeses from Michigan, Wisconsin and France, was beautifully complemented by the Ridge 2016 Pagani Ranch Zinfandel.

Altogether, an uplifting evening of California Sonoma winemaker passion and energy shared with winelovers in Chicago – another perfect pairing.

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Riedel wine glasses show size really does matter

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Maximillian Riedel
Maximillian Riedel

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.

Riedel large wineglasses from 3 lines
Riedel large wineglasses from 3 lines

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.”

His company responded when the spirits industry first begin to honor tequila, and then sake, and now the trend is toward brown spirits, mainly in crafted cocktails – honoring the drink with everything from the size of the ice cube to the weight and configuration of the glass. Riedel has created an entire new series of glasses specifically made for various types of spirits and mixed drinks.

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 decanting onstage
Maximillian decanting onstage

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.

Riedel wineglass appreciation workshop
Riedel wineglass appreciation workshop

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.

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Folio Fine Wine Partners presents wines of the world

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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.
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A bottle of Pesquera Tinto Crianza 1995, a win...
A bottle of Pesquera Tinto Crianza 1995, a wine from Ribera del Duero. Español: Botella de Pesquera Tinto Crianza 1995, vino con D.O. Ribera del Duero. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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:

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France
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South America
Susana Balbo wines from Mendoza – exquisite wines made with grapes like Torrontes, Malbec, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and more. She creates magic in Mendoza.
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Italy
Donnafugata – Passionate makers of a range of wines made from grapes indigenous to Sicily such as Grillo and Nero d’Avola as well as blends using well-known international varieties.
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California
Emblem, Animo, Isabel Mondavi – from Napa Carneros, Hangtime, Oberon. Spellbound
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Spain
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.
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**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.
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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.
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Wines of Chile best-in-class awards 2017

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Cabernet Sauvignon grape cluster, shown by DNA...
Cabernet Sauvignon grape cluster, shown by DNA studies to be a cross of Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon blanc. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

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Moscato d’Asti will open your eyes

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Surprise: Moscato d’Asti from Italy’s Piedmont region is worlds away from what “moscato” meant to most American 20 years ago – which was generally an over-sweet wine without the balance of appropriate acidity. Just plain cloying to drink.
There are versions of Moscato being made in Sicily and other parts of Italy, but the magic of Moscato d’Asti comes from the strict regulations of the DOCG designation. No extra sugar can be added, for example. And fermentation must be natural, not from injected gas. Because standards are so strict, every year is declared a vintage.
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Today 4000 companies in Piedmont grow grapes on 27,000 acres of mostly hillsides to create the light, low-alcohol, floral white naturally sweet wine with a touch of bubbles. The natural fermentation sets it apart from the simplicity of Prosecco, which bears no comparison to the complexity of this Moscato d’Asti. Some say this Moscato has similarities to complex yet lightly sweet German wines like Riesling and Gewurtztraminer.
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Generally considered a fresh wine, you won’t find many older vintages of Moscato d’Asti. Though you might find a bottle here and there that has stood the test of time for a few years, up to 5 or so. Part of the reason for the freshness is that producers don’t bottle the wine until it’s been ordered. They actually use fine-tuned technology to maintain the fresh, non-alcoholic juice at 2 degrees below zero Celsius until it’s time to bottle. Once an order is placed,  winemakers gradually raise the temperature of the juice until fermentation sets in, then watch it carefully until the perlage – bubbles – are just right for the maker’s vision.
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Climate change is affecting how the Piedmont Moscato winemakers do their work. They are having to pick earlier and anticipate in the near future having to grow their grapes almost exclusively on the hillsides where it’s cooler than in the valley, has more light and cooler nights.
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Most of these winemakers suggest enjoying their wines as apertif or even as a midday refreshment. Remember the study that said office workers who consumed a glass of wine at lunch tended to perform better, come up with more creative solutions, and generally be in better moods? It’s true, people. Come on, live a little!
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Here are a few wines that struck a chord at this event:
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Saracco Moscato d’Asti DOP 2016. Surprisingly delicate, complex and slightly fizzy rather than bubbly. Fun to drink with dessert or alone, as a pleasant mid-day break. Remember – delicate bubbles, low alcohol (generally only 5%) and extremely aromatic. A treat.
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Coppo Moncalvino Moscato d’Asti DOCG 2016. Moscato represents one of the most important indigenous grapes to the Piedmont region. And Moscato d’Asti has higher acidity – to balance the natural sweetness – than almost any other sweet wine, which keeps the flavors interesting and complex. This particular wine is fresh and aromatic with floral notes and peach and pear overtones.
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Marenco Vini Scrapona Moscato d’Asti DOCG 2016. This wine has a heady combination of aromas – almost reminiscent of musk oil – that translate into a deliciously rich flavor. The winemaker said, “We are all about preserving the distinctive aromas of the Moscato grape.” One part of achieving that goal is to allow no irrigation; the wines are made with whatever moisture nature provides. This particular wine is substantial enough to pair well with a wide variety of foods: from tempura and spicy foods, to light cheeses, to desserts and fruits of multiple varieties.
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Vignaioli di Santo Stefano Moscato d’Asti DOCG 2016. A bouquet of elder flowers, lime and peach. A little sweeter than the others with a delicate rather than a bold aroma. Suggestions to pair: sweets, cakes and ice creams plus some cheese or fruits like figs or melons.
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La Caudrina Moscato d’Asti DOCG 2016. Aromatic with a delicate flower scent, sweet yet lightly acidic. Perfect for dessert, with dry bakery such as Panettone (a fruity bread) or Easter Coloma. Refreshing anytime as a low-alcohol option. Only 5% alcohol. Lively and pleasant.
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Lovely white – William Fèvre Chablis Champs Royaux 2015

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Cold French wine Chablis made from Chardonnay
Cold French wine Chablis made from Chardonnay (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Chablis. Remember how that was practically the only white wine we knew of back in the 70s?  I always liked Chablis; didn’t know or care at the time that it was made with Chardonnay grapes – and still is today. So it came as a surprise to me that I didn’t like the original heavily oaked Chardonnay wines that came from those same grapes. Happily these days, the oaking craze has settled down quite a bit.

To my further surprise, years ago when I was searching out a white burgundy, a favorite of mine, I finally realized many of those bottles were labeled Chablis – and learned that the Chardonnay grapes used to make them are grown in Burgundy. For a good discussion of this slightly confusing situation, read Eric Asimov of the New York Times on Chablis.

William Fèvre is known for producing exceptional Chablis wines that are excellent expressions of the ideal growing conditions in their Grands Crus terroirs. In this Champs Royaux 2015 you’ll taste the minerality of the sea and the chalky soils typical of the area – which makes it a perfect pairing with oysters. Winemakers notes: Fresh bouquet of citrus and white fruits, very slight oak finish, fresh and supple,

Some experts claim Chablis is the only wine that pairs perfectly with oysters.  I’m not going to argue with that or the recommendation of consuming oysters, grilled fish or sushi with this one. But I also think it has enough structure to stand up to roast pork with a light sauce or even a creamy beef Stroganoff. It’s a white wine with backbone, like some white burgundies I’ve had. At $25 a bottle, you can be proud to present this as a host/ess gift or just as a treat for yourself.

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Greek wines make a splash in Chicago

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City Winery noshes for Greek wines
City Winery noshes for Greek wines

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.

City Winery spread for Greek wines
City Winery spread for Greek wines

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.

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