Saturday, March 17, 2012

The new world of (old) Spain

The country of Spain has over 2.9 million acres under vine. That makes it the most widely planted, but 3rd most (behind France and Italy) wine producing nation in the world. In other words, a ton of juice comes out of Spain. The quality ranges from supermarket slop up to world class treasures. Spain is considered an "old world" wine region, they've been making wines there since Roman times. Old world can be described as a style of wine that highlights the wines' terroir, or sense of place. The wines take on the traditional characteristics and style of the vineyard and grape varietal. Over the last decade or so a new philosophy has started to take hold by some wine makers. Cutting ties with the old world style and making the best possible wines the vines will produce regardless of terroir. This is sometimes considered "new world" or a more modern style driven by some consumers. The wines selected for this exercise are two of the top "new world" wines coming out of Spain today.

Vine Times Chicago executive chef, Kristina, decided to try her hand at a traditional Spanish recipe to pair with our new world Spanish wines. Can the old and new co-exist, and even taste great? Let's find out.

The Wine

Bodegas Alto Moncayo, 2005 Campo de Borja

Bodegas Alto Moncayo is a joint venture featuring popular Spanish importer Jorge Ordonez and Australian wine star Chris Ringland. Jorge has been called the guy who introduced Spanish wines to America. You've likely tried one of his wines as they are great values starting as low as $6 a bottle. Chris is known for making large and full throttle wines that land high scores from some wine critics but are polarizing in style. Bodegas Alto Moncayo , offers 3 different Garnacha wines. From their entry level Veraton ($29) to Alto Moncayo ($47) and finally Aquilon ($166.) We're tasting the mid level Alto Moncayo from the 2005 vintage. I purchased this wine on release back in 2008 and have cellared it for a little over 3 years. I opened one about 18 months ago and it was still tannic and high in alcohol so I waited longer to open the last bottle of this in my cellar. Longer cellaring allows the wine to further integrate and evolve, rounding out some of the potential harsh edges.

Tasting note: Nose of coffee and blueberry pie. Black in color, full bodied. Notes of dark chocolate and jam. Laser beam of black and blue fruit, very concentrated. Gobs of oak. Alcohol is high and strong on the finish. Still a massive wine, not balanced. Needs even more time, if it will ever come together.

Bottom line is that this is a massive new world style wine, 16% alcohol and it shows all of it. It's full throttle and fruit forward. Fantastic garnacha flavors but it's just not balanced, thus interesting, but not overly pleasant to drink. If this is your style of wine then the Alto Moncayo delivers, not quite sure it's my thing.

Bodega Numanthia Termes Numanthia, 2003 Toro

The Alto Moncayo was Granacha, our 2nd wine of the night is Tempranillo, or more specifically a unique version of the grape called Tinta de Toro. Bodega Numanthia also offers three levels of wine, the Termes ($30), Numanthia ($60) and Termanthia ($200.) Again we go with the mid level wine, Numanthia, from this Bodega. Although the vines are ancient (70 to 100 years old) the Bodega revived the vineyard and their first vintage was 1998. Since then they've been earning high scores and putting the Toro region back on the map in Spain. Bodega Numanthia is owned by luxury company LVMH. Only 250 cases of this wine are imported to the U.S. and it usually sells out quick when it hits retail, so if you see it grab it because it won't be there when you come back!

I've been cellaring the 2003 Numanthia since my purchase in July of 2007! About time to check in on one of these.

Tasting note: Nose of pencil lead. Blackberry and dark cherry on the pallet. Hints of Vanilla and oak. Ultra concentrated and full bodied, well integrated and balanced. Inky black. Still a touch young but drinking well.

Between the two wines the Numanthia showed better. Perhaps it was because of the extra two years of age, or perhaps it's a better made wine with more balance. Either way at 9 years old it still was a baby, this could last for 25+ years and I'll wait at least another 5 to 7 years before opening another bottle.

The Food
What better to pair with two big Spanish wines than a powerful classic Spanish dish, Pollo al Chilindron. A wonderful dish from the Navarre region of northeast Spain. Pollo al Chilindron is made with red bell peppers and tomatoes, for good measure the sauce contains a good portion of Jamon Serrano. Absolutely delicious and Kristina nailed it.

Recipe here:

What a fantastic evening with great Spanish wine and food. We hope you can enjoy creating a dinner party like this for your friends soon. E-mail us and we'll be happy to help you source wines and recipes to plan your own evening en Espana.

Best Regards,
Vine Times Chicago

Monday, January 30, 2012

Chicago Wine Bars: Telegraph

Recently we checked out a new wine bar in Logan Square called Telegraph. Located directly on the northeast side of the square at 2601 N. Milwaukee Ave. it's actually easy to miss unless you're specifically looking for it. And you should definitely be looking for it! Created by the team behind The Bluebird and Webster's Wine Bar this place has the pedigree and it delivers.

The scene:
Telegraph is very cozy with a rustic modern feel. Reclaimed wood and vintage style lighting make this minimalist space look sleek. I would suggest arriving early as there are not many tables. We sat at the bar and enjoyed it over a table as we could look at all the different liquor selections and chat up the bartender to learn more about the various wines and spirits.

The wine:
Telegraph offers a good selection of reds, whites, and sparklers by the glass. You won't find your typical Napa Cab or Sonoma Pinot Noir on the list. Be prepared to discover some great wines from lesser know European regions like Sicily, Slovenia, and even the Canary Islands. Per their website Telegraph exclusively features "Small family owned European producers who craft their wines as naturally as possible." Sounds good to me. They offer a nice selection of bottles including some with a bit of age. Look for daily specials by the glass too.

Go and discover some great wine that you may have not been familiar with before. Craft beers and liquors are available in case you're with someone who's not feeling like wine.

The food:
This is what makes a good wine bar great, and keeps us coming back. The food at Telegraph is fantastic. I would actually compare it to Longman & Eagle or Bristol....yes it's that good. We started with some oysters which were on special that night. Nothing out of the ordinary but good quality fresh oysters. Our starter of roasted mushrooms was amazing. When done right mushrooms can match the taste and complexity of the best cuts of meat. The chef nailed it here. Next up was a fantastic filet of grilled Rockfish. Sweet and savory at the same time this would make anyone who always orders beef at a restaurant change their tune. Chef John Anderes really knocks it out of the park.

Vine Times Chicago highly recommends Telegraph, check it out and learn about some new old world wines.

2601 N. Milwaukee Ave.
Chicago, IL 60647

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Tuscan Wine Masters Academy, Chianti Classico

The next DOCG we learned about at The Tuscan Wine Masters Academy was the appellation of Chianti Classico. The Chianti Classico region is the oldest and first delimited wine production zone in Italy. Back in 1716 the Medici Grand Duke Cosimo III issued an edict about its boundaries and these have remained virtually unchanged since. Chianti Classico covers about 100 square miles between Florence and Siena. Approximately 40 million bottles of Chianti Classico are produced every year and the U.S. represents 36% of all sales, the most in the world!

The heart and soul of Chianti Classico is the Sangiovese grape and the production regulations for Chianti Classico are very stringent. By DOCG law the wines must contain at least 80% Sangiovese, producers are allowed to blend up to 20% of of indigenous grapes like Canaiolo, Colorino, and outside grapes grown in the region such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Due to recent changes in the laws producers can now use 100% Sangiovese. Hard to believe but up until 2006 the wines could be blended with local white grapes like Trebbiano or Malvasia. Thank goodness that's no longer allowed, it's all red now. Chianti Classico must contain at least 12% alcohol and can not be released until after October 1st of the year following the harvest, 24 months for a Riserva. Some recent top vintages are 2007, 2006 and 2004 so look for these on the shelves at your local wine shop.

The Wines:

Chianti wines are probably the Italian wine that consumers in the U.S. are most familiar with. From the bottle in the wicker basket found on the table at many Italian restaurants all the way up to Chianti Classico Riserva's the pricing and selection can be anywhere from $6 up to $60+ a bottle. To be sure you're getting good quality look for the DOCG label on the neck of the bottle, this will ensure you're getting the good stuff. We tasted 10 different Chianti's during the tasting portion of the class, here's my pick along with a couple Chianti Classico's that I enjoy on a regular basis.

Querceto di Castellina

Chianti Classico L'Aura 2007
90% Sangiovese, 10% Ciliegiolo and Merlot
Alcohol 14%, 14 months in Oak.

The Querceto starts with a bit of vanilla on the nose, the oak is present but not overpowering. With this wine being a 2007 it's very young and should come into balance nicely. Nice palate of spice and red fruit. Nice acidity and a fresh and crisp finish. Nice wine. Look to spend $21 to $23 a bottle.

2006 Fattoria di Felsina

Chianti Classico Felsina Berardenga 2006
100% Sangiovese, 12 months in Oak

The Felsina is a regular favorite of ours to go back to every vintage. In addition to the regular Chianti Classico bottling we also drink the Riserva and Felsina's special single vineyard bottling the Rancia. Expect an explosive nose of flowers and fruit. This smells like Italy to me, vanilla, cherries, and leather. Good balance and goes great with any Italian food from a meat and cheese plate to heavy red sauces. You can find all the Felsina wines locally at Binny's or Wine Discount Center.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Tuscan Wine Masters Academy

Recently I had the amazing opportunity to attend a new U.S. education initiative sponsored by the Consorzi of Brunell di Montalcino, Chianti Classico, and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano. The classes, "The Tuscan Wine Masters Academy" consisted of classroom study and tastings. I'm a big fan of these three prestigious D.O.C.G. Tuscan wine regions and the Sangiovese grape in general, and was very excited to participate! Upon successful completion of the courses I earned professional certification in the wines of Brunello di Montalcino, Chianti Classico, and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano! Feel free to hit me up for all your Tuscan wine needs as I'm now a certified Tuscan Wine Master! Special thanks to the Chicago Wine School and M. Young Communications for putting on a fantastic series of classes.

The Venue: BIN36

Our classroom and tasting sessions were held in the loft area at BIN36. If you haven't been to BIN36 before it's a must visit for any wine enthusiast. In addition to great wine and cheese selections they also have a retail store and a wonderful menu too.

Our instructor: Patrick Fegan, Director of the Chicago Wine School Patrick's knowledge of wine is amazing, he' the only Chicagoan to have passed the exam given by London's Institute of Masters of Wine, he's been teaching since 1975. Patrick delivered the material with a good sense of humor and kept the class interesting and entertaining.

We covered a good deal of material so I'm going to break down the classes and tastings into three separate posts by DOCG.

First up is Vino Nobile di Montepulciano (VNdiM.) VNdiM has often been described as "the wine of kings" and enjoys DOCG status shared by only 40 other wines in Italy. VNdiM is a blend of Sangiovese known locally as Prugnolo Gentile, and small amounts of other red grape varieties (max of 20%) such as Canaiolo, Colorino, and a few others like Cab Sauv and Merlot. In 2009 about 7.5 million bottles were produced and 18% of that made it into the USA. In 1989 the DOCG relaxed its rules allowing for 100% Sangiovese although many producers contuine to blend a few different grapes. The wine must be at least 70% Sangiovese and must age for 2 years before release, (3 years for a riserva.) If you come across a Rosso di Montepulciano this is a lesser wine grown in the region that is typically newer vines and requires less ageing before release. The Rosso's are more light bodied and ready to drink sooner, their lower price point would also make them a good weeknight wine.

The Wines:

During the tasting portion of the class we tried 6 different VNdiM and 1 Rosso. I'll recommend a few of my favorites.

Le Berne Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2006,
97% Sangiovese and 3% Colorino
14% Alcohol, aged 24 months in oak

The Le Berne is a medium to full bodied and concentrated VNdiM. Nose of black cherry and baking spice, the red fruit carries over to the palate. The wine is powerful and tannic and will no doubt benefit from a year or two in the cellar. An exciting and complex wine. You should be able to find this wine for under $30, let me know if I can help you track it down, I'll take a few bottles for myself.

Lodola Nuova Vino Nobile di Montepulciano 2006
95% Sangiovese, 5% Cabernet Sauvignon
14% alcohol, aged 18 months in Oak
The Lodola Nuova was lighter in color, very fragrant and floral nose. Cherry and red fruits on the clean, crisp palate. Light and bright with a 15 second finish. This is much more accessible than the Le Berne and ready to drink now. This should be readily available for around $21 and is a good entry level wine for VNdiM.
That's all for now, stay tuned for notes on Chianti Classico and Brunello coming soon!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Super Tuscans at a Super Italian BYOB

Last night Vine Times Chicago joined forces with The Windy City Wine Guy.

Our mission objective was to gather intelligence and report on the Lincoln Square Italian BYOB Caro Mio.

The target environment:
Caro Mio Italian Ristorante
1827 W. Wilson Ave.
Chicago, IL
The food:
For starters we went with the classic Caprese salad. The Buffalo mozzarella was moist and delicious, the tomato's were just a bit under ripe. I'm sure they're good tomatoes, however after having Caprese salad in the Amalfi coast I'm a bit spoiled...nothing can compare to that! We also tried the Insalata di fagioli which was green beans marinated with balsamic vinegar, oregano, garlic, tomato's, and boconcini mozzarella. This salad was delicious and I much preferred it to the Caprese. The green beans were flavorful and prepared perfectly al dente.
Now on to the million dollar question, what to have for dinner. Caro Mio must offer 50 different choices between, home made pastas, chicken, risottos, beef, veal, seafood, etc. It took me quite awhile to decide on just a simple but delicious ziti with meatballs and sausage. What really made this dish was the homemade marinara sauce with onions, pancetta, white wine, garlic and parmesan. Wow, what a great combination, plus the portion size would easily leave two people stuffed. Everyone at the table really enjoyed their food.

The wines:
In keeping with the Italian theme we decided to make it a special event and break out the big dogs from Tuscany. A "Super Tuscan" is a wine from Tuscany that does not fall into one of the Italian DOCG classifications. Read more about that here:

Basically, Tuscan growers in the late 70s and early 80s did not want the government to tell them what grapes they can grow and what varietal percentages they can include in their final blends. They instead decided to declassify some wines and label them under the lower IGT classification. There's nothing lower quality about the wines we had last night however, in fact they are some of the most sought after and highly rated wines in the world.

1997 Fontodi Flaccianello della Pieve Colli della Toscana Centrale IGT (Italy, Tuscany, Colli della Toscana Centrale IGT)

The Flaccianello is made from 100% Sangiovese and is the flagship wine of Fontodi. This is consistently rated as one of the top Italian wines year after year and last night it lived up to it's reputation. 1997 was an excellent vintage for Tuscany and just now this wine is entering it's peak drinking window, it will even last another 10 years I would think. Very full bodied it picked up weight in the glass as the night went on. Explosive nose of spice, cherry, and leather. Elegant and powerful but with finesse all at the same time. You can pick up the current vintage at Binny's for $100 but I'd wait at least 5 years to open one. In the meantime e-mail me and I'll tell you where to find back vintages at good prices.

2001 Antinori Tignanello Toscana IGT (Italy, Tuscany, Toscana IGT)
The Antinori family has been producing wine in Tuscany since 1385, plenty of time to get really good at it! Tignanello is the original "Super Tuscan" being made since the 1970 vintage. This is a blend of 80% Sangiovese, 15% Cabernet Sauvingon, and 5% Cab Franc. I was really looking forward to trying this as my only experience with the legendary Tignanello was just one glass of 2005 at a hotel in London this spring. It was great to finally spend some time with a more mature Tignanello. My initial impression was how you could really taste the Cabernet Sauvingon in the blend, it gave a really nice sweet kick of black fruit and a hint of chocolate. I was impressed with how full bodied, yet balanced this wine was. It still was hanging onto firm but smooth tannins. Very delicious to pop open now but will also evolve for another few years and last much longer. Tignanello can also be picked up at Binny's for around $90 for the current vintage. Again give this one some time, seek out back vintages to get the full experience.

What a great evening; fantastic company, wine, and food. We'll be sure to head back to Caro Mio soon. No need for a special bottle of wine, just bring anything Italian......and your appetite.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Sam's Wines Closing South Loop Store

In case you missed today's article in the Chicago Tribune, Sam's Wines has announced they will be closing their South Loop store. The store at 50 E. Roosevelt Rd has only been open for two years.

"Due to the slower than anticipated development of the South Loop area, we were forced to cease operations at that location," said Richard DiStasio, chief executive of Sam's.

Don't fear South Loop resident's, Binny's at 1132 S. Jefferson St. is still your retail destination for great wine in the South Loop. While I hate to see any wine store go out of business the South Loop Sam's wasn't a great store. They had a very small parking lot and street parking is near impossible around the Roosevelt & Wabash area. South Loopers love their cars! If they can't drive there, they won't go.



Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Thoughts from the 2009 Wine Bloggers Conference

It's been a few days now and my wine overload has started to subside. Wow, what a weekend! I have to admit that the 2009 WBC absolutely exceeded my expectations in every way. From the high quality of wines and wineries to the sheer number of participating bloggers it was quite an event. Cheers to Open Wine Consortium and Zepher Wine Adventures for putting it all together and pulling it off.

I must have tried over 75 different wines between the live blogging session (see previous post), Sonoma tasting, Napa tasting, after hours and dinners. Just too many wines to comment on each one but I will name a few that I thought were interesting and good enough to seek out again.


Cathy Seghesio was pouring a few of her wines at the Sonoma tasting. I've enjoyed Seghesio Zinfandel's many times. The 2007 Sonoma Zinfandel was named to the Wine Spectator top 10 of the year and is always a great value at under $20. When I spotted a Barbera on the table I was excited as I love finding Italian varietals from California. The Barbera was a delicious wine but the star of the line up for me was the 2008 Arneis. This white Italian varietal has been grown in the Piedmont region for centuries. Expressive notes of lemon, melon, and starfruit with fresh acidityand minerality. We'll seek this out and report back later, e-mail us if you'd like to get in on a purchase, retail is $20 and I think we'll find this for less.

-Sojourn Cellars

During dinner Craig Haserot from Sojourn was working the room and pouring his 2007 Gap's Crown Vineyard, Sonoma Coast. This was my favorite Pinot Noir of the weekend. Amazing concentration and complexity, just layers and layers of fruit and mineral. What a great effort. Later on Craig came back around with his 2006 Reserve Cabernet, Mountain Terraces Sonoma Valley. This was also a great wine, very young and tight. I'd love to find a few bottles of this to lay down for 3 or 4 years. Full of cassis, black fruit, cocoa, and oak.

Check back over the next few days as we sort through our notes and bring you more recommendations.