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.



Friday, July 24, 2009

Live Wine Blogging from the 2009 WBC

Our first tasting exercise at the 2009 Wine Blogger's Conference is a live blogging session. All of the bloggers are seated at 22 different tables and the wineries have 6 minutes at each table to pour their wines and tell us about them.

We'll be giving our immediate impressions as we taste the wines. I'm doing this real time...only 6 minutes per wine!

Foggy Bridge 2007 Chardonnay. Retail $18.
Lots of Oak on the nose and palate, honey & caramelized nuts. clean finish. Nice, Chris would buy this if it hits the local shelves at $14 or less. Kristina would pass.

Clif Family Gary's Improv 2006 Syrah. From vineyard in Oak Knoll, 100% Syrah, Retails for $35. Same owners as Clif bar. Herbal nose, black fruit, a tinge of mint, slightly sour finish. Mouth drying tannins. Kristina would buy this, Chris would pass.

Benovia Winery in RRV, Focuses on Pinot Noir & Chardonnay, 2006 is their first vintage. Pouring their 2007 Savoy Pinot Noir Anderson Valley. Retails for $55. Bit of strawberry on the palate, lots of heat on the nose and mouth, Campfire and Mushroom, earthy, high alcohol.
Chris would pass, Kristina liked it but would pass at this price point.

2007 El Molino High School Pinot Noir. This wine is actually grown and harvested at a high school in RRV. They have one acre of vines on the campus. 100 cases a year, students grow and harvest the grapes and winemakers donate their time to make it. Retails for $35 a bottle. Light color, sweet and sugary, Strawberry and cola. Astrigent finish, cloudy. Chris didn't enjoy this wine but would buy it because the concept is so cool. I wish I went to High School here! Kristina says it not her style.

Rodney Strong 2005 Rockaway single vineyard Cabernet Sauvingon. Alexander Valley, this is the first vintage. A bit of Malbec and Petit Verdot. 1800 cases produced. Retails for $75. Very deep garnet red color, vanilla, smooth tannins, full mouthfeel, concentrated. Black fruit. Kristina would buy, Chris liked it...pricey though.

Cornerstone Cellars 2005 Howell Mtn. Cabernet Sauv. 600 case production, vines grown at 1800 feet elevation. Dark purple color, Nice full nose of cassis and strawberry. unusual for a cab but pleasant. Retail is $100. Mouth drying tannins, bitter coffee like finish, one dimensional. Chris would pass at this price. Kristina liked it but $100 is steep.

Benzinger Signaterra 2006 Three blocks Sonoma Valley, Retails for $49. 64% Cab, rest Merlot. Pleasant nose of red and black fruit, tastes very like 50/50 cab and Merlot, cab pencil lead and merlot sweetness. smooth tannins, medium bodied, chalky, dry. slightly herbal-eucalyptus? Chris liked this...worth a 2nd look, Kristina concurs.

Matthiasson 2008 Sauvingon Blanc. Retails for $35, 300 cases made. Huge fragrant nose of lemon & melon, very light straw color, just can't get over the nose...I could smell this all day. Fresh minerality, long finish for a Sauv. Blanc, slightly sour. Poured from decanter, slightly too warm as we are now near the end of the session. would show better a bit cooler. Chris would buy this, Kristina would try again too.

Joseph Phelps 2005 Cabernet Sauv. Retails for $54 a bottle. All fruit that doesn't make it into the Insignia goes into this. This is widely available in Chicago. Deep purple, nice sweet nose of cassis and fruit, medium bodied, cherry licorice, slightly chalky, smooth tannins. This was good, I've never tried this before, actually makes me want to try Insigina.

Bonny Doon Vineyard, Le Cigare Volant, 2005. Retails for $35 From Santa Cruz. Whole kitchen sink in here, 50% Gernache. The Gernache profile really comes out but the other varietals (sorry I can't recall them all, there were like 6!) give the wine weight and complexity. Tastes of flint stone, earthy, burnt match but not sulfur, very rustic. Nice clean finish. Very Northern Rhone. We would both try this again.

Kaz Vineyard & Winery Bullseye 100% Petit Sirah 2007, Canino Ridge Vineyard. Retails for $36. 16.6% alcohol. They make 12 wines a year, 1,000 to 2,000 total cases. Very deep purple, Sweet sugary nose, full bodied, slight finish of popcorn. This hides the high alcohol content. Chris would try again, I think this would benefit from a long decant. Kristina is so-so.

Concannon Central Coast 2006 Petit Sirah. Retails for $15. Slightly more muted nose than the last Petite Sirah. Medium bodied, Blackfruit, oak, somewhat disjointed finish, but well integrated tannins. Nice price point, pleasing. We both would try this again, nice to see a good wine at a reasonable price!'s now over. We just tasted every single one of these wines and wrote our thoughts on the fly. I don't think I could have done too many more! Kristina is buzzed! This was really fun, my overall impression was that the quality of the wines were very good. Quite a few new labels, some old ones. The winery people were very nice and entertaining. As much as I liked many of these wines I just think that the price points are pretty high compared to some go to favorites of ours.

Keep coming back here all weekend as we enjoy the 2009 WBC.

Chris and Kristina

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Pax Wine Cellars Tasting

As a customer of The Chicago Wine Company I was invited on their behalf to a Pax Wine Cellars tasting held at the Lee Allison Company in Bucktown last Thursday, July 16th. I'm very familiar with the reputation of Pax as a top California producer of Rhone style varietals. These Syrah based wines aren't always easy to find, and when you do come across them they usually will set you back $55 to $65 or so. I'll have to admit that I had never tried any of the Pax wines so I was eagerly anticipating this tasting.

The scene:

The Lee Allison Company is located in a very cool loft space on Webster Ave. just off Wood St. They make custom, hand made silk neck ties. I looked over the ties they had on display there...very cool stuff. Great gift idea ladies...

Our hosts for the evening were Lee Allison himself and John Svoboda. Also in attendance were the main players at Pax Wine Cellars; Proprietor Joe Donelan, his son Tripp who heads up sales, and winemaker Tyler Thomas who was pouring his work all evening.

The tasting line up:


2008 Pax Rose, Sonoma County

This wine is a blend of Syrah & Grenache. I didn't pick up much on the nose. Very light pink color and slightly bitter fruit. Clean finish but not very crisp. Overall I'd grade this wine a "C"


2007 Pax Venus, Roussanne/Viognier, Sonoma County

Starts off with a soapy nose, bit of nail polish giving way to lemon. Crisp tight finish. Kristina enjoyed this much more than I did but I'm not a fan of anything Viognier.


Here's what we came for....

2007 Pax Syrah, Cuvee Christine, North Coast

This wine is 100% Syrah from 6 vineyards in Sonoma. Aged for one year using 70% new oak.

Dark Purple color, lots of smoky bacon on the palate, a bit too much for my taste. A very nice balanced wine, smooth tannins and a 15 to 20 second finish. I'd give it a "B-"

2007 Pax Syrah Walker Vine Hill, Russian River Valley

Very Dark Purple in the glass, chalky, sweet fruit, very concentrated, smooth tannins. Wonderful wine. A close 2nd favorite for the night. "B+"

2006 Pax Syrah, Griffin's Lair Sonoma Coast

This is what I'm talking about...home run. Poured from a decanter the wine was almost black in color. Very rich, gamey, cherries and mouth coating tannins. There's alot going on here. Wine of the night for me, runner up for Kristina.

2007 Pax Cuvee Moriah, Grenache/Syrah/Mourvdere, Sonoma County

Big difference going from the Griffin's Lair to this. Really easy to pick out the light notes of Grenache. Strawberry, delicate, medium bodied. Kristina's wine of the night.

2007 Pax Syrah Kobler Family Vineyard, Green Valley

97% Syrah and 3% Viognier from Sebastopol. Smoky game meats, bacon, slightly disjointed. Near the bottom of both of our rankings.

Finally they were pouring another wine not in the official line up

2006 Pax Majik Vineyard Syrah

According to the label only 2 barrels (about 100 cases) of this wine was produced. The nose just exploded with the smell of, Marijuana? We thought we had smelled it once before in college, very similar aroma. Very herbal tasting, green tannins, medium bodied. Neither of us enjoyed this wine at all. Kristina asked Joe Donelan about the unusual nose. He did say the vineyard is very high up on a ridge top in Sebastopol, lots of hippies in that area. Interesting.


The overall profile of the Pax Syrah's I found to be very concentrated with notes of smoky game meats. Not my favorite flavor profile, but the quality of these wines is undeniable. If you were going to try one Pax wine I'd seek out the Walker Vine Hill. All in all this was a fantastic event, the people at Pax Wine Cellars are very generous and passionate about their wines.



Sunday, July 12, 2009

New Italian Wine Bar - Salute

This weekend for 'date night' we tried a new Italian wine bar in River North called Salute. The location is convenient for a Friday after work happy hour or, like we did, a light dinner and drinks before catching a movie at 600 N. Michigan. It's nestled in the garden level space at 46 E. Superior, with a comfortable front patio below street level which is quite charming. Salute is next door to the popular 1492 Tapas, another favorite of ours, I hope Salute catches on - it's certainly not to be missed for fans of Italian wine.

The Food:
Salute offers a wide range of food, small bites all the way up to a full meal. From the small plates menu we started out with the Caprese salad. It was a traditional arrangement, simple and fresh, very delicious. Moving on to the large plates we tried the beet hummus. The hummus was an interesting take on a favorite dish, the addition of balsamic vinaigrette really added a nice kick. Other than too few pita for the amount of hummus, it was a hit as well. Our server brought a few more pitas out warm from the oven so crisis adverted. Finally, off the panini list we went for the "Muffalette" chock full of spicy Italian meats this hit the spot. Salute also has several salad options, cured meats and cheeses, and a full dessert list. We'll check out that dessert list next time.

The Wine:
For anyone hoping to try lots of off the beaten path Italian wines and expand their Italian palate this is the place for you. This is not your typical Tuscan and Piedmont heavy wine list which was exciting for us. In fact, Salute claims to have wines from 20 different regions of Italy and based on the size of the wine list I believe them. What a great opportunity to really get to know some lesser known varietals. Real Italianophiles will love Salute.

I told our server that I was looking for a glass of crisp, minerally, lemon lime floral white - and she knew exactly what I was talking about and brought me just that.

Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi 2007 Marche

This wine was not offered by the glass normally, but since they had it open they gave me a glass, which was appreciated since this wine embodied all that I was looking for. Its full bodied for a white, rich mouth feel and a clean dry finish. The notes were floral, citrus and honey. This was $40 per bottle at Salute, and worth it. We'll be trying to track this down locally.

We switched to red for our meal, and had several good wines, all on the recommendation of our server - so nice when a wine bar employs people who actually know about and understand the wine! The most notable red:

San Antonio La Bardina 2004 Valpolicella

This wine is offered by the glass and is not to missed if your a fan of big, spicy red wines. The nose had notes of herbs, tobacco, clove and red fruit. It was delicious with our food, very peppery and full, but soft on the finish.

We highly recommend Salute Wine Bar. The staff is friendly and knowledgeable, the setting comfortable, and prices reasonable. A novice wine drinker can find something to enjoy while the Italian wine junkies will love the diversity of the bottle list.

46 E Superior

Chris & Kristina

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

A new wine bar in an unexpected place

A few weeks ago I finally made it over to Lincoln Park to check out the much anticipated new location of Whole Foods. I had heard the 100,000+ sq. foot mega-store at 1550 N. Kingsbury St. would be the largest, or 2nd largest Whole Foods in the world so I suppose I shouldn't have been surprised to find a wine & cheese bar right smack in the middle of the store! On that first visit I couldn't quite bring myself to start drinking at noon on a Tuesday (Friday, yes. Thursday, maybe.) It took me awhile to get back, and last night was finally time to check out Da'Vine.

The wine bar:

Da'Vine is a full service wine bar right inside the store. You can pull up to the circular bar from two different sides, one at store level and another a few steps up where you'll find a nice seating area with several 4 or 5 seat tables. Da'Vine focuses on flights with 5 or 6 different offerings between $9 and $12, for that price you get 3 different 2 ounce pours. The flights offered were a good mix of red, white, rose, and sparkling wines. Any wine from a flight is available by the glass in a 4 ounce pour. Additional by the glass options are available that are not part of the flights. A glass will run you between $5 and $9 so it's pretty reasonable by Whole Foods standards. To round it up they had a red and white special of the day for $5 a glass. To help wash down your wines they offer cheese flights and caviar. The bartender running the ship was great, she was happy to let us try a small sample of the wines before we ordered. My only gripe was that both the red and white wines were served too cold, because of that our wines were closed and not showing their full potential upon serving. After a few minutes of warm up they were ready to drink....better to be served too cold than too warm. One great additional tip we learned was that you can pick out any bottle they offer in the store and they'll ring you up right there. Only $3 corkage to drink the bottle at Da'Vine. We saw several groups that brought meals over from the food court area and were enjoying their dinners with some wine.

The wine:

When I saw the $5 red wine special I jumped all over it. "Merkin Vineyards, Chupacabra Caduceus Red Blend. California (Paso Robles), 2006. What made this wine sound interesting to me is that the wine maker is Maynard James Keenan. Fans of the bands Tool and A Perfect Circle will recognize that name, Keenan is the founder and driving force behind those great rock bands. I knew that Keenan was a novice winemaker, he's a guest contributor and blogger for Wine Spectator magazine. This was the first time I had seen one of Keenan's wines so here it goes.

The Chupacabra (Chupacabra in Spanish literally translates to Goat Sucker) is a blend of Cabernet and Syrah. I couldn't find any information on the ratio of Cab to Syrah but based on the taste I would guess it's primarily Syrah. The nose is fragrant with notes of currant and plum. A smooth palate of chocolate, currant, and black fruit, slightly herbal. Medium length and smooth tannins finish it out. The wine is very full bodied. Like most blend wines the shortcomings of each individual varietal is covered up by the others in the mix. The wine was pleasant and can be enjoyed without food. I was a bit surprised by the sale price of $19.99, I was expecting closer to $15. Whole Foods normally sells this bottle for $24.99 so if you do want to try it make sure you pick it up on sale. I really wouldn't recommend it at $25 but would say out of curiosity Keenan's fans would probably get their money's worth at the sale price. As for me I'll probably let Keenan get a few more vintages under his belt as a winemaker before I give him another shot at my $20 or $25.

Next time you find yourself headed toward Weed St. (the restaurants, not VIP's, right?) stop in to Da'Vine to get the evening started. It's also a great way to wrap up a busy North & Sheffield shopping trip...plenty of easy free parking! I highly reccomend stopping by Da'Vine.


Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The quest for the perfect summer white wine begins

Ever since we got back from our wonderful vacation in the Campania region of Italy, we've been on a quest to find the crisp, lemony, refreshing, mineraly white wines similar to the ones we experienced around the Amalfi Coast. Unfortunately, nearly all the wines we enjoyed there are only sold locally, so its been somewhat difficult to find wines from that region upon our return. We are working on it though, and hopefully we'll track down more wines from the region to try and blog about soon!

Luckily, we did happen upon a Campania region wine at Wine Discount Center, though the bottle was not labeled with the region we recognized the label as one we'd seen in several small wine shops in Sorrento and Positano. The wine we tried tonight was:

2007 Feudi di San Gregorio Falanghina Sannio (Italy, Campania, Sannio)
This wine delivered on what we were looking for. The nose had fruity notes of lemon, lime and banana. The lemony tartness was strong on the finish, in a good way. It reminded me of a cross between a banana Now & Later and a sugared lemon drop, full bodied and complex for a white, with a sour candy finish. We paired this wine with tonight's entree - Spicy cilantro turkey burgers from Whole Foods (aside: whole blog post about the new Lincoln Park Whole Foods to come - they have their own wine & cheese bar! Its so fantastic we want to move in and just live there, and we were previously not the biggest fans due to their high prices, more on that later). The cumin and chili oil in the burgers paired well with this wine, I'll likely try it next time with a curry or other Indian food. The flavors really came alive with our Caesar salad as well- another recommendation to pair with this wine.

We highly recommend the Falanghina Sannio as a great wine to drink with food, value priced around $14 and perfect for a hot summer night when your looking for a full bodied, complex white as an alternative to Chardonnay. Whether you'll love it, or it's just not your style, you must give this Falanghina Sannio a try and expand your palate.

Chris & Kristina

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Where do you shop for wine?

First off, for the record we have no affiliation what so ever with any wine retailer, wholesaler, or distributor.

With that out of the way I'm about to let you in on the best kept secret in Chicago for wine lovers......Wine Discount Center. This hidden away wine store is home to some of the best values and advice in the city. Great news for you suburb peeps too, they have 3 locations in the burbs. For us city dwellers you can find this wine Mecca at 1826 N. Elston Ave. You've probably driven past while trying to take a short-cut out of Lincoln Park. It's a red store front right up on the sidewalk, very easy parking along the street since it's in a low traffic industrial area.

Right when you walk in they have dozens of good wines for less than $10. If you never even make it past the front room you'll be drinking well for cheap. Venture further into the store you can find whites, reds, sparkling wines, dessert wines, etc....just about everything from all over the world. You'll find more under $10 selections all the way up to 1st growth Bordeaux and Premier Cru Burgundies....some of the finest wines in the world (with price tags to match.) Now they don't quite have the number of selections as Binny's or Sam's....however they have hard to find gems and all the selections are picked by the very knowledgeable staff. Tell them what you're looking for and you'll wind up with something new that may really surprise you, or open you up to an entirely different type of wine, or region.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Wine Tasting Review - The Chopping Block "Six Red Grapes You Should Know"

Recently we attended our first formal "wine class" at the Merchandise Mart location of The Chopping Block.

"The Wine Goddess and The Chopping Block Present: Six Red Grapes You Should Know!"

Here's a breakdown of all the elements:

Class Experience
The Wine Goddess has an entire series of wine classes. She is definitely knowledgeable, very high energy and shares a lot of good nuggets about the wine. Everyone in the class gets a detailed packet with typical characteristics of each grape, some historical perspective, and food pairings.

My only comments would be that the class could be a bit more interactive. We were there with client guests and I would have preferred more of an opportunity to discuss the wine amongst ourselves - not that we were ever 'shushed' for doing so...but I have a feeling we were dangerously close to a shushing once or twice. Also, it kind of took a while to get to that first sip, about 20 minutes, drinking could commence sooner and does in other classes she teaches.

The Wine
Overall, the wine selections were good, we enjoyed everything we tried. The six red grapes we tasted were Pinot Noir, Sangiovese, Tempranillo, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Syrah. I liked that the wines she selected were slightly off the beaten path, and none were outrageously expensive. We really liked the side by side tasting of a french Pinot Noir (Burgundy) and a Oregon Pinot Noir. This is a great way to train the palate and recognize specific characteristics that the terroir brings to the wine.

The Highlight for me (the wine we'd buy on our own):
Andrew Rich Pinot Noir "Cuvee B", 2006 Willamette Valley Oregon

It was spicier than the Burgundy, my tasting notes were candied fruit and velvety finish, not too dry. Also learned how to pronounce Willamette Valley, "Will -AM -et" (rhymes with dammit.)

For $60 a person, you don't get a ton of wine, (there is a nice cheese plate though) so this is for the true wine student. There are much cheaper options for a casual night out to try different wines, I'll be recommending some of those as this blog continues. I would say for this one, its worth it if you are serious about learning wine, and even better if you can do it on someone else's dime. Not recommended for a interactive evening, probably better to do with one or two friends rather than a group.

For more information about the wine series at The Chopping Block check out:

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Recession Drinking

Welcome to Vine Times Chicago.

Our blog is about everything wine with a Chicago focus. We're not going to tell you about some fantastic new French wine that's a great value...and impossible to find. What good is a wine recommendation if you can't get your hands on it? We've spent the past few years searching Chicago high and low for the best wine bars, shops, and deals.....we'll pass along our favorites.

We hope you'll keep coming back here to learn along with us.

Our first entry is a timely one.....good & cheap wines! All of these can be found locally between $7 and $10. One of our favorite things on a week night is to grab a cheap bottle and hit a BYOB. If we can get away with spending $30 or less total it's a guilt free experience. If you have trouble finding these shoot us an e-mail and we'll point you in the right direction.

Chris & Kristina

2007 Bodegas Olivares Monastrell Altos de la Hoya Finca Hoya De Santa Ana (Spain, Murcia, Jumilla)
The Altos De La Hoya is a steal for 9 bucks. Grab a bottle of this for your next Mexican or Spanish BYOB night out. Full of blackberry and spice, medium body, smooth sweet tannins and enough acid to drink well with food, as much complexity as anything up to $20 or so.

2005 Azienda Agricola Masciarelli Montepulciano d'Abruzzo (Italy, Abruzzi, Montepulciano d'Abruzzo)

There's tons of cheap Italian wine out there....the problem is most of it sucks! Not this Montepulciano d'Abruzzo. It's got that dusty Tuscan taste and sweet strawberry fruit, quite acidic so drink this one with food, it matches up great with Italian dishes with marinia sauce. Great deal at 8 bucks or so.

2006 Columbia Crest Cabernet Sauvignon Grand Estates (USA, Washington, Columbia Valley)

Now usually I wouldn't reccomend a cabernet in this price range. It's just one of those grapes, (espically domestically) that comes with a hefty price tag if you want quality. Columbia Crest bucks that trend. Chocolate, spice and cassis balance out a touch of oak. Good with food or without.