Articles in Chicago Wine Journal
Review: To sample through the red wines of Italian producer Avignonesi is to understand how such vino di tavola – or table wine – came to be known as Super Tuscan. It’s also to be reminded of the rewards and adaptability of Sangiovese, the bedrock grape of Tuscany. Or as Giuseppe Santarelli, Avignonesi’s export manager for North America, characterized Sangiovese in presiding at a Chicago tasting of his company’s wines: It is the King.
Mulling Wine: Italian conductor Enrique Mazzola is the unlikely international ambassador for the 70-plus producers of Vino Nobile di Montepulciano in Tuscany. It’s a natural role, the maestro says, because — like any ambassador — he’s always taking his advocacy on the road.
Mulling Wine: Rummaging around in my wine cellar, I came upon a few cases I’d put back years ago and simply forgot about. These were various reds from Napa and Sonoma, the heartland of California wine production, and they collectively offered something bordering on revelation: the profound character and age-worthiness of wines we tend to value for their immediate pleasures.
Tasting Report: When your palate is switched on by the greeting wine handed to you at the door of a tasting event, chances are this is going to be an affair to remember. My taste buds got just such a jump start when I chose, well, “red” from the proffered tray, and it turned out to be EnRoute’s lovely 2013 Pinot Noir “Les Pommiers.” EnRoute is a Sonoma venture of the high-profile Napa producer Far Niente, whose diverse labels were spotlighted in this tasting.
Tasting Report: The name Gallo may invoke a vast enterprise that produces a raft of wines under a great many labels. But the company also has another side, one more suggestive of a boutique operation, that offers a robust, complex Cabernet Sauvignon bearing the imprimatur of winemaker Gina Gallo.
Tasting Report: The power, the finesse and the sheer intellectual engagement that stamp top-quality red Burgundy wines were amply displayed in youthful, sharply contrasting examples I recently tasted from two producers in the famed Côte d’Or, Domaine Gille and Domaine René Leclerc.
Tasting Report: It’s always such a smile-inducing pleasure to come upon a wine that exceeds all expectations in its price class. A terrific example is Sbragia Family Vineyards’ Dry Creek Valley Sonoma Home Ranch Merlot 2012, a wine stuffed with the goods to compete well beyond its modest price of $24.
Mulling Wine: To glimpse the poor, stony soil is to wonder how it could ever produce the grapes that Domaine Santa Duc in turn translates into some of the most seductive wine in the Southern Rhône Valley appellation of Gigondas. But the proof was there in a palate-pleasing, indeed eye-opening vertical sampler of Santa Duc’s single-vineyard, old-vine Gigondas Prestige des Hautes Garrigues.
Tasting Report: The wines of Tuscan producer Brancaia are well worth seeking out. There’s something exceptional here to meet budgets across a wide range. An array of Brancaia wines were served at an off-beat cheese party at the East Loop Chicago restaurant Tesori, when chef Danny Sweis sliced into a new 80-pound wheel of parmesan.
Tasting Report: One of the great pleasures of a visit to France’s Northern Rhone Valley is the luscious Viognier produced in Condrieu. I would have said it was matchless – until I had the equally happy experience of the Viognier from Darioush in California’s Napa Valley. The Darioush Viognier is a recent discovery for me. I first tasted it in the 2013 vintage – a lovely expression of white wine that in its combination of buttery depth and finesse evoked not only the Viognier of Condrieu but also the plush majesty of the top Chardonnays in Burgundy. And the newly released 2014 may prove to be even better.
Tasting Report: Since my earliest forays into French wines, the brightest stars in my firmament have consistently included the patrician Hermitage La Chapelle produced by Paul Jaboulet Aîné in France’s Northern Rhône Valley. So it was little short of enchanting to step back through time at a vertical tasting of this great expression of Syrah at a recent Chicago seminar sponsored by Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate.
Mulling Wine: By chance or perhaps my natural gravitation, I just completed a sort of hat trick – meal accompaniments from three of my favorite Burgundy producers, all of whom fall into the somewhat misunderstood category of négociants.
Tasting Report: Since its founding in 1989, Domaine Serene in Oregon’s Willamette Valley has emerged as one of the top producers of Pinot Noir in a region famous for that wine. In a horizontal tasting with friends of four different Domaine Serene bottlings from the 2011 vintage, it became readily apparent why this house continues to enjoy such high esteem.
Tasting Report: With the dramatic emergence of Spanish wines in recent years, Grenache has gained familiarity in its Spanish robes as Garnacha – which might lead one to assume that the “two” grapes are one and the same. Indeed they are, and yet there’s a world of difference between them. That became clear during a Chicago seminar last week presented by Spanish producers of Garnacha from Cariñena, a small appellation long overshadowed by the likes of Rioja and Ribera del Duero.
Tasting Report: Somewhat to the northwest of the heart of what we think of as Burgundy – that is, the glorious Côte-d’Or with its world-famous Pinot Noir and Chardonnay — lies the appellation of Chablis. Technically, Chablis is part of Burgundy, though it’s more like an island. Or perhaps an unfavored stepchild. But for wine lovers, especially devotees of Chardonnay, Chablis is a discovery-in-waiting.
Mulling Wine: Wines of the Rhône Valley in southeastern France – and others modeled after them from sundry parts of the world – will be spotlighted, explained and, not least, savored in a series of “master” tastings followed by dinner May 23 at Chicago’s Park Hyatt Hotel. The public event is being presented by Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate.
Mulling Wine: In an epochal Chicago event 35 years ago, Miljenko Grgich’s 1977 Napa Valley Chardonnay, the first he’d produced under his own name, beat out 220 other Chardonnays from all points on the compass (yes, including France) in the largest single-varietal blind tasting ever held up to that time. Last week, Grgich’s daughter Violet and other representatives of Grigich Hills Estate returned to Chicago for a small commemorative tasting of their library Chardonnays and three from the 2012 vintage.
Tasting Report: For a wine buff, it was an evening of almost silly delight: A tasting of wine after great wine from the astonishing portfolio of Italian producer Marchesi Antinori, an array that extended from Brunello di Montalcino to Super Tuscans the likes of Guado al Tasso, Tignanello and Solaia.
Tasting Report: Among the treasures of my wine cellar are several vintages of Ferarri-Carano’s Bordeaux-style blend called, fittingly enough, Trésor. More than merely Bordeaux-styled in concept, the 2010 Trésor’s combination of layered fruit, ripe tannins and crisp acidity lends it the native character of its classic model.
Tasting Report: Chardonnay lovers, as well as those who insist they’d rather drink anything but, take note of the name DuMOL. I have just tasted a trio of this 20-year-old Sonoma County winery’s 2012 Chardonnays, and I am star-struck.
Tasting Report: With a group of friends, I recently ventured through five vintages of Brunello di Montalcino from Poggio Antico, an excellent producer of this patrician wine from central Tuscany. The results were intriguing. Younger wines sometimes proved more readily drinkable than older ones, and comparative qualities changed – radically in some instances — as the wines aerated after pouring.
Mulling Wine: For many years, and by now many years ago, I wrote for various national publications about consumer electronics – sound systems, televisions. The advent of larger-screen televisions came to mind as I was pondering a column on venturing into – and inevitably collecting – wine.
Tasting Report: In the comparatively brief time since Oregon’s Willamette Valley was established as an American Viticultural Area (AVA), in 1984, the region has won a reputation, especially for its Pinot Noir, that borders on legendary. Over the last couple of days, I’ve been savoring a wine from Cristom Vineyards that illustrates in classic terms the basis of the mystique of northwestern Oregon.
Mulling Wine: When you put your nose into a glass of wine and get an “off” smell, something more suggestive of a wet dog than fruit, chances are you’re holding a corked wine. If you think that first whiff is bad, just wait 20 minutes. It only gets worse. Before elaborating on what “corked” is, let’s get straight what it is not. It is not bits of cork floating around in your glass.
Tasting Report: Can there be any wine enthusiast for whom mere mention of the word Merlot does not invoke the 2004 buddy movie “Sideways” — and the maniacal aversion to the stuff spouted by one of those guysi? In fact, many a pleasurable glass of Merlot continues to flow from California producers in the heartland of Napa and Sonoma. Two charming expressions of this maligned grape are the subjects at hand — Clos du Val’s Napa Valley Merlot and Ferrari-Carano’s Sonoma County Merlot, both from the 2011 vintage.
Tasting Report: The California producers of red Zinfandel are many and scattered, and their styles are wide ranging, as exemplified by two in hand from the 2012 vintage: Cline Family Cellars’ Contra Costa County Big Break Vineyard Zinfandel and Seghesio Family Vineyards’ Sonoma County Old Vine Zinfandel.
Mulling Wine: There’s something about wine and its enjoyment that elicits a good deal of nonsense, silly notions and wacky practices. The idea that dish soap should never touch a wine glass ranks high on that list. The only way I know to make a glass glisten is to wash it, by hand and with the same liquid detergent I use on my prized kitchen cutlery and fragile table ware.
Tasting Report: The Chardonnay produced in the principal appellations of Burgundy has long laid legitimate claim to being, collectively, the finest white wine in the world. But as those celebrated whites have become expensive, now would be a perfect time to consider the white wines from Burgundy’s deep south – from the appellation of Pouilly-Fuissé. The 2013 vintage from Louis Jadot typifies one of the world’s best wine values.
Tasting Report: At any tasting of the great wines of Bordeaux, the stars don’t merely come out – they shower. So it was at a recent sipping of a small but widely representative sampler that produced one heady delight after another. The megastar of this assortment was the seductively opulent Château Beau-Séjour Bécot 2009 from St.-Emilion on Bordeaux’s Right (or east) Bank.
Mulling Wine: To decant or not to decant? To my mind, that isn’t even a question. Any wine, new or very old, gains from time in a decanter. Long experience has taught me that wines that have rested years or even decades in my cellar invariably blossom after the aeration that comes with decanting.