Articles in Chicago Wine Journal
Tasting Report: The dog days are upon us. Time to lap up some cooling summer wines – whites and rosés to accompany a picnic or simply to enjoy, to sip for their own mellow rewards. If there is a place in the wine world that prides itself on rosé, it is Provence, where the cuisine and the warming sun of France’s Southern Rhône Valley create an ideal setting for these salmon-pale refreshers.
Tasting Report: Add 2015 to the impressive list of auspicious Bordeaux vintages since the turn of the millennium and the brilliant wines of 2000. Many of the region’s star producers recently converged on Chicago for a tasting under the aegis of the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux. The many wines I sampled suggested a vintage unusually accessible for early drinking, but also one with its share of wines built for the long haul – wines that will reward patience.
Tasting Report: Lovers of vintage Port wine learn early that, in the rarefied world of Port, “the latest thing” doesn’t come around very often. As in Champagne, the producers of Port “declare” a vintage only in exceptional years – typically about three times each decade. The recently introduced 2016 Port wines signal one of those exceptions, the first vintage declared since 2011. And what beautiful wines they are.
Tasting Report: It is a pervasive proposition of Oregon winemakers, whose red grape of choice is generally Pinot Noir, that their wines are created on the Burgundian model. One producer whose Pinot Noir might actually be taken for Burgundy, in both style and structure, is WillaKenzie Estate.
Tasting Report: 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.