Thursday, April 7, 2011


The variety of wines I choose to drink is probably too narrow in scope. There's a lot of good wine out there, and even if I had the budget to get through more, I don't have the time to properly enjoy it. As a result, I tend to ignore large segments of the market, sometimes with reason and other times without.

I'm particularly critical of California, but it wasn't always that way. When I took up this sport, I bought in to the idea (probably because I read it somewhere) that nothing went better with a big, juicy steak than a big California cab. But over time and many more bottles my tastes and preferences changed. I won't bore you with the reasons why, but new world wines in general, and California wines in particular, are low on my list for allocation of scarce resources (time and money).

Thinking back, I would guess that I haven't purchased a bottle of California wine in about three years. That's purely a result of stereotyping, narrow mindedness and unfair extrapolation on my part, but I have to make choices somehow, and, in my experience, California wine didn't offer anything to keep me buying.

Never say never.

Based on countless recommendations from people with similar sensibilities, I recently purchased of couple bottles of 2009 Edmunds St. John Bone-Jolly. It's a light and refreshing wine made from Gamay, and the label tips its hat to Beaujolais, from whence the best known, if not best overall (forget not the Loire), gamay-based wines hail. Although this is plainly not Beaujolais, it's not difficult to draw comparisons. The ESJ is fruity (maybe a touch too much so) and easy drinking, with laser-like acidity. I gulped it down with barbecued pork ribs (dry- I don't dig the sauce) and chips, and that's my measure of a wine's true vaule.

I've read that ESJ syrahs (I think there are several bottlings) age beautifully. I've also heard that ESJ used to be available in Chicago (Sam's, RIP), but I've never come across it here.

So, I suppose I won't paint with quite as broad a brush anymore. Like all consumable culture, wine styles change, and the wine press has been writing quite a bit about producers that are breaking out of what I perceive as the California mold. But nonetheless I will be taking baby steps back into this pool.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

A Good Run

So I forgot to post anything to this blog for a year. I had shit to do.

I had a couple of outstanding Champagnes recently, and although I fear the jinx, these bottles demand outing:

NV Marie-Noelle Ledru Grand Cru. I know I’ve got something special on my hands when my wife comments on the wine three times without prompting. It’s everything a kid could want from Champagne, hitting delicate notes of flavor and texture with pinpoint accuracy. If you live in Chicago, call the great Craig Perman, and beg him to locate some more. Here’s a great write-up on Marie-Noelle Ledru from Brooklynguy.

1999 Chartogne-Taillet Fiacre. I love it when this happens. I was out for a business dinner at an acceptable but very corporate establishment, and in the middle of a Champagne list full of big house names BAM! this little gem. Not outrageously priced either. So I ordered it from the waiter, and the sommelier promptly appeared with the bottle, beaming. “I’m so happy you ordered this,” he said. And notes that it’s his last bottle. He actually seemed kind of disappointed. I offered him a taste. “No way I’m going to pass on that offer,” he replied.

The wine was exceptional- long and clear and true. Even the non-Champagne nerds in our party (i.e., everyone except your author) appreciated its beauty.

It’s bottles like these that keep me popping corks and spending beyond reason. I wish Champagne was less expensive. Unfortunately, like Count Mippipopolous, I only drink it from magnum.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Great Expectations

I love the anticipation of opening a great bottle, and Tuesday night found me drinking a bottle I had been thinking about since August.

Back in August, me and my friend Mark were eating and drinking at Rootstock, one of my favorite spots in the City for honest, unpretentious food and booze. It has a small but compelling wine list; it's the kind of place that has Savoie blanc and Raffault by the glass. That night I spied a trophy of sorts (not a Screaming Eagle / Opus One trophy- a wine drinker's / non-hedge fund manager's trophy) in the form of a 1999 Bartolo Mascarello Barolo.

Bartolo Mascarello was a lion whose words and actions influenced winemakers and wine drinkers around the world. Although I don't claim to be his biographer, I think it's fair to write that he believed there is only one way to make Barolo: the way it has always been made, without regard to fashion, technology or consumer preferences. The man died in 2005, and his production was always small scale. I wouldn't call this a once-in-a-lifetime bottle (I forked over for a bottle of the recently released 2004), but certainly no more than a handful of times will I ever taste these wines. Very few bottles reach retail shelves in the U.S., and, since no more will be made by his hand, the supply will only diminish.

Mark is a Notre Dame alumni and fan (whether it's advisable to associate with such people is a topic for another post), and on this night in August we were discussing the prospects of the Irish football team for the upcoming season. Mark, being the kind of guy he is, said that Notre Dame would definitely be invited to a BSC bowl game at the end of the season. Needless to say, I had some doubts about that, and I'm sure at this point I don't have to tell you where this post is going.

Fast forward to the blizzard that hit Chicago on Tuesday, and Mark and I, sheltered from the storm at Rootstock, are set to settle our bet by uncorking the 99 Mascarello (note that another Mascarello estate, Giuseppe, also makes darn fine wine nearby). Mark arrived first, and immediately set the bottle to air in a decanter. We eased into the night with bubbles (Mark a beer, me a splendid Godme Champagne), and ordered some food (near flawless pate, among other things).

I poured a glass and sniffed. For about 15 minutes. And there wasn't much there. It was wine all right, but the nose didn't show the magic I expected. No matter, this wine was a relative baby, and we had all night to let it show its stuff.

Sadly, the stuff never came, at least not for me on that night. It was fine to drink, of course, and it did reveal itself more as the night went on, but there was no ah-ha, no paradigm shift, no smell that pops into my brain days later (it's always the smell, by the way, that comes back to me, not the taste).

The bottle may have been too young to drink, regardless of how long we left it open (the deep sleep, some would say), or it may have needed many more hours or even days of air to hit its height. It may have been an off bottle, varied for whatever reason. Or it's possible (however doubtful) that I don't like this guy's wines- it was my first after all. Maybe a combination of the foregoing.

But none of this business about the wine really matters. We had a high time that night, Chicago silent around us, as we made friends with the few other lonely souls holed-up at this sanctuary in Humboldt Park. I'll remember that bet, the anticipation for that bottle, and the snow for a long time to come.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Crazy Whites and the Wine Lover's Favorite Meal

I wasn't the first person to discover the Jura, but it seems to this uneducated observer that its wines enjoyed obscurity until recently when the wine press seized on it like never before. Such attention has the happy result of increasing consumer demand, which means wider availability; however, the region produces precious little juice, which, for you non-economics majors, means higher prices.

So it goes.

I was overjoyed (seriously, overjoyed) recently to discover the first bottle of Domaine de Montbourgeau I've seen in Chicago at Wine Discount Center. Hailing from l'Etoile in the southern reaches of the Jura, this estate, in the hands of Nicole Deriaux, is a benchmark of the region. Made from Chardonnay (not that I ever could have guessed), Edward Behr reports that this basic bottling from 2004 fermented in tank, then spent three years in barrels and large casks.

This wine may shock the uninitiated. Often likened to sherry, certain winemaking practices in the Jura oxidize the wine, giving it sharpness, but also welcome cleanliness and precision, especially for chardonnay. I can therefore add the Jura to my list of places from which I enjoy expressions of chardonnay, bringing the grand total to two.

The oracles call the Jura verdant land of trenchermen. I don't know what that means, but it yields some crazy good whites. I'm a sucker for a hand-sealed wax cap.

If you're interested in the Jura, you must order AoE 72. And if you don't know the joys of AoE, simply subscribe. The high tariff is worth every penny.

What to eat with such a unique beverage? It may not be original, but whenever I'm in doubt about appropriate fare for a particular wine, we usually end up feasting on roast chicken. Everything from mid-weight whites to mid-weight reds show well next to a juicy, properly seasoned bird. It's an important recipe in any wine geek's repertoire.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

DJ! Musica!

A brief pause from our usual programming to note a powerful commonality I've observed the last few years: nearly every wine geek I know is also passionate about music. Rock star importer Kermit Lynch makes records. Rock star Italian wine blogger Jeremy Parzen is an actual rock star with his own French band (don't ask). Our new friends Lars and Kelly are both talented musicians. Saignee, McDuff, Eric Asimov, all think and write about music. And I could go on.

Is this a coincidence? I doubt it. Whether cooking or eating or drinking, music is the perfect accoutrement. I'm admittedly biased against television, but unless we're talking football, beer and barbecue, there's virtually no programming to enhance your dining experience. Consider, by way of contrast, Miles Davis, Bob Dylan, Marvin Gaye, Bonnie "Prince" Billy, Great Lake Swimmers. What we have there is cultural, thoughtful, expressive, unique. Sounds a little bit like the best characteristics of food and wine come to think of it.

So, if music isn't already part of your daily routine, the next time you prepare and sit down for a meal, don't forget to put a record on the hi-fi (that's high fidelity). You could listen to a mix cd, hit shuffle on the ipod, or type something into Pandora, but why not instead listen to a classic album in its entirety? You wouldn't hit shuffle on the genius of Grant Achatz or Bartolo Mascarello, now would you?

Sunday, January 24, 2010

The Road Less Traveled

I'm a sucker for obscure wine regions. If I see a bottle on a shelf from a region I've never heard of, I'm probably going to buy it. And why not? Maybe that place has wicked good dirt. Hence my joy with these two bottles, solid wines with close ties to important regions, but which are mostly off the grid. The best thing about unknown wines is the price- who's going to plunk down good cash for a shot in the dark (other than your spendthrift author)?

First up a 2008 Menetou-Salon from Domaine Jean Teiller, imported by Free Run, LLC. This Sauvignon is not as stately as those from its neighbors to the east in Sancerre and Pouilly, but it's fine for a workaday blanc, precise with attractive citrus and mineral flavors, and proper acidity. Purchased from Garagiste.

Writing of Menetou-Salon, this is a good opportunity to heap praise on the wines of the Loire Valley. I started my great, big, financially irresponsible wine obsession there, and I've never really left. For me, this is the place to start any figurative wine journey through France. And I expect those who start there will return frequently.

My next offering is from Burgundy in general and the Cote d'Or (Volnay) in specific. Not exactly off the grid, huh? Well, what if I told you it's made from Gamay rather than Pinot Noir (actually there is some Pinot in there, but we'll come back to that). Then, Gamay + Burgundy = Beaujolais, right? Not this time.

This 2006 Bourgogne Passetoutgrain from Domaine Michel LaFarge, imported by Connoisseur Wines (a Becky Wasserman Selection) is good to find. Made from a minimum one-third Pinot Noir and Gamay (according to the oracles) this wine recalls youthful, thirst quenching reds you would find in a Parisian bistro, but it also channels nuanced dirt from the famed Cote d'Or. For less than $20, it's well worth exploring the unknown.

Always Worth It

It's shit like this that keeps me popping corks. We opened an '07 J.J. Prum Riesling Kabinett as one of our selections for dinner last night at Bon Soiree with our good friends Jason, Ben and Whitney. The word balance is overused in wine writing, but this magnificent collision of tastes and textures has zen-like harmony. Close your eyes, focus, and you'll realize all is well in the world. I purchase Prum reflexively. Like Lopez de Heredia, I see it, give a passing glance at the price, reach, and buy. I'm apprehensive and distracted if I don't have a bottle at home. And the worst part is it will improve in the bottle indefinitely. What then is an addict to do? Drink? Hold?


No picture. Please, just go to the store. The Binny's South Loop location usually has a good selection.