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. www.seghesio.com

-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. www.sojourncellars.com

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!

Wow.....it'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 www.paxwines.com 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... http://www.leeallison.com/

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.