Thursday, December 24, 2009

Dievole Chianti Classico Dieulele Riserva 2001

I went to Italy in the summer of 2006. While there, my friends and I hit a wine museum in Siena, where I bought my dad a bottle that was personally recommended by the guy behind the counter.(I wrote about the trip in detail here.)

The bottle was a 2001 Dievole Chianti Classico, the “Dieulele Riserva.” It’s a beautiful bottle. I gave it to Dad for Father’s Day.

Wine Spectator had this to say about it: “This is beautiful and balanced with berry, vanilla and milk chocolate aromas and flavors. Full-bodied, soft and round with a long finish. Drink now. 375 cases made.”

“Drink now” is a little worrisome, since the review was written in 2005.

• • •

Not long ago, -j-j- had an idea that we should head over to my parents’ place and cook lasagna for them. The recipe: A butternut squash and spicy sausage lasagna I learned how to make at the Chopping Block back in 2003.

We arrived at my parents’ place, and to my surprise, my dad brought out the Dievole. I didn’t know he was going to do it, but hey, Italian wine and Italian cuisine. What would be a better time?

So Jen and I began creating.
Jen made some bruschetta…
…and I hunched my back and set into the lasagna…
The finished lasagna was pretty good if I may say so, much better than the only other time I tried to make it. (By the way, I bought the spicy sausage at Panozzo’s Italian Market in the South Loop. Go there—it’s a wonderful place with Italian meats, cheeses, groceries, wine and pre-made dishes.)
We opened the wine. It was excellent—very dark and inky, and sweet without being cloying. And it had a bit of a kick to it. I wish I could remember more—this was almost two months ago, and I didn’t take notes. Hopefully, Jen will remember more and chime in. Jen?

As for whether it went with the lasagna, I have to reluctantly say it didn’t, really. The sweetness kind of fought with the lasagna’s sweetness, and the spiciness of the wine was intensified by the spiciness of the sausage. They weren’t bad together, but they did come into conflict a little.

I was able to enjoy both by consuming them separately. I drank some water and let a little time pass between each bite of the lasagna and each sip of the wine. But I am thrilled that my dad remembered the bottle and deemed this a special enough occasion to open it.

• • •

I have noticed that nice bottle of wine is an intimidating possession. When I bring home a bottle that might be a little more expensive than I normally buy, or one that was a gift from someone, or one that I bought after having really enjoyed it in a tasting, I become reluctant to open it. I have to wait for the right moment, or serve it with the right food, so it sits forever, off-limits.

There was a story on NPR of a community that holds a party every year where people bring in the bottles they’ve been sitting on and open them up. The thinking is, “If you’re waiting for a special occasion, fine: here’s your special occasion. Open those bottles.”

The moral of “Toy Story 2” comes into play here. Toys are meant to be played with.

It’s Christmas Eve. I fully expect to be on the receiving end of a bottle or two. I still have the Riesling my brother gave me last Christmas, and the Riesling he gave me the year before that. (To be fair, the 2007 gift was specifically meant to cellar for several years. I believe Matt referred to it as a “cornerstone” wine.)

I almost have to make specific trips to buy wine that doesn’t mean a lot to me, just so I have something to drink.

So maybe the Dievole wasn’t perfect with the lasagna. But there’s no way to know that without cracking open the bottle.

And in hindsight, they look pretty good together.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Bottle Battle

I expressed in a recent post how worried I get when I imagine my little wine shops going up against the giants. But I was intrigued when the Sam's in the South Loop closed its doors not long after it opened, leaving the South Loop Wine Cellar standing just a few blocks south. Maybe the big stores weren't the indestructible behemoths I thought they were.

Well, last month Binny's bought Sam's. As a result, there are some inventory clearance events going on at Binny's, and I have dipped into them already.

But in the meantime, I've learned about another little shop, this one a few blocks from where I work. Perman Wine Selections. The owner, Craig Perman, sends out emails each week with recommendations. One arrived this morning that mentioned that he was selling his remaining bottles of 2005 Bodegas Mauro for $21.99 instead of $47.99.

At that point, I don't really need to hear any more. But his description sounded intriguing, and he included this review from Wine Advocate:

"Opaque purple-colored, it reveals a brooding but enticing bouquet of wood smoke, pencil lead, tar, and assorted black fruits. This leads to a layered, plush, mouth-filling, sweetly fruited wine with tons of flavor. It has enough structure to evolve for 2-3 years and its finish is long and pure. It can be enjoyed now but will continue to provide pleasure through 2025. 93 Points."

So on my lunch break today, I headed over and picked one up.

The shop is a small, stark space, but its healthy attitude toward education is illustrated by a tall chalkboard explaining his monthly $60 wine packages. He sells six bottles at a bit of a discount and includes detailed descriptions so you can learn as you taste, at your leisure.

He recommended decanting the Mauro, a blend of Tempranillo "y otras," for a half hour or so.

I also ran the wine through the Wine Spectator website, to which I have managed to score a free two-month pass. They had this to say:

"Black cherry, herbal and licorice flavors mingle in this firm, polished red. Lively and balanced, with a bright core of fruit. Tempranillo. Drink now through 2013. 23,000 cases made. Score: 87"

Not quite as enticing. I find smoke and pencil lead a lot more mouthwatering than black cherry and bright fruit. But still, I am intrigued. Possibly intrigued enough to invest in a decanter.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Carménère: The Zombie Wine


In the 1860s, a phylloxera plague washed across the vineyards of Europe. Phylloxerae are aphids with a taste for the finer things, and they descend on a vineyard like it's their personal wine tasting.

France was particularly devastated, and the six noble red grapes of Bordeaux suffered. Particularly the beautiful, crimson carménère grape. When the dust settled, carménère … was extinct.

Or was it?

Cut to the 1990s, when oenologists making their way through the foreboding landscape of Chile looked up and saw a familiar grape lurching toward them. They were terrified overjoyed! Suspicions were confirmed: Some of what had been harvested in Chile and sold as merlot was actually the long-lost carménère. A few stray vines seem to have made their way over to the New World before the plague hit back in France, and carménère is now a primarily Chilean wine.

A Chilean wine that cannot die.

Happy Hallowine.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Canneto Vino Nobile de Montepulciano 2004

-j-j- and I tasted this at Fine Wine Brokers and fell in love with it.

It was very deep and strong. Dark and mouth-filling.

I thought I tasted fennel.

This may have been because I had fennel on the brain. I was at that very moment making a gravlax. Though “moment” is probably the wrong word; the gravlax took a week to concoct.

How to make a gravlax (literally, “hole salmon”): You take raw salmon and cook it without using heat. Instead, you cure it, in this case by packing it in a mixture of chopped fennel and onion for three or four days. Then, rinse it off. Then, wrap it in plastic. Then, unwrap it and top it with chopped fennel fronds and dill. Then, wrap it in plastic. Then dig in!
Except I realized too late that it’s supposed to be an appetizer. Gravlax is not a pigout food. You’re supposed to serve up a few slices to trigger your guests’ salivary glands and then move on to the main course. But -j-j- and I had a pound of it to get through.

When it finally came time to eat it, we thought we’d crack open the wine that had the whiff of fennel.

It was a mistake. They didn’t go together at all.

-j-j- theorized that the fennel on the fish may have been cancelled out by the fennel in the wine, leaving nothing but an oily, fishy scent forced up our sinuses. It was all right, though, if we used some roasted sweet potatoes and sautéed vegetables as a buffer, cleansing the pallet of the fish and preparing it for the wine.

When we’d finished eating, the wine was able to come into its own. It opened and developed and mellowed, and I was able to remember what I loved about it. There was nothing light or fruity about it. It dragged my tongue through the dank underbrush.

As for the salmon, I nibbled at it some more a day or two later. The raw saltiness was very good, but it kept me from eating more than a few bites of it at a time.

It’s supposed to be able to last for another week in the refrigerator, but in a moment of panic, I decided to try baking it, to see if I could enjoy it in greater quantities. But no—it just got fishier and saltier. I gave up and threw it out.

And I decided never to try anything new again.

Monday, October 5, 2009

2007 Broadside "Margarita Vineyard" Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon

A few weeks ago, while Notnits and I were strolling around Lakeview, we happened upon the Wine D.O.C., a wine bar located on the upper edge of Lincoln Park on Broadway. As we checked out the menu, we thought we might return at a future date. They looked like they had a pretty interesting stock.

The future date arrived and we found ourselves hovering in the doorway to the D.O.C. peering into a dark, clubby atmosphere. There is little instruction on whether one should sit or approach the bar so we regrouped and headed to the pub next door, Dunlay's. To our happy surprise, they served the wine flights from the Wine D.O.C.

We ordered a couple of wine flights and during a jaunt through the three California reds, we came upon a 2006 Broadside Cabernet. To be fair, my palate might have been a little warn thin at the time so anything smooth and easygoing would probably have a heavy appeal.

A couple of weeks later, we stopped in again and ordered the California reds a second time. This time, I recalled the 2006 Broadside and made a note of it.

As it turns out, the 2006 Broadside is pretty much out of stock in any larger Binny’s or Sam’s warehouse. But I did find a 2007 Broadside and snatched it up right away.

I brought it to Notnits and we opened her up.

I am fairly new to drinking wine in any way other than at a party or a table Red with dinner, so I’ve built up a few weird prejudices about what I drink. Firstly, I’m always a little put off when the wine has a really intense color…like purple. This might come from some childhood notions abut Welch’s grape juice or Nehi. I see a deep plumy purple in my glass and it looks like a kid’s drink. Shouldn’t there by more of a rusty brown in there?

That said, the plumy purple was beautiful and thick. Holding it up to the light, I could barely make out a dim glow. But it was there…like late afternoon sun through stained glass.

Then there was the taste. It coats the mouth well and starts out sweet, earthy and dark and ends up with a dry light spice in the finish. As Notnits noted, “It’s like coming up out of a cave.”

We had some pesto left over from the vat I made a few nights ago, and experimented with the flavors in the pasta. It paired very well…the basil enhancing the woodsy notes in the wine.

I drank quite a bit of it.

This is the type of wine you can feel good about bringing to a dinner party or giving to friend who is just getting into wine (even someone who isn’t). It’s under $20, and drinking it is smooth and easy. A definite repeat purchase.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Villa Sonia 2006 Ripasso III: Revenge of the Villa Sonia 2006 Ripasso

I finally finished off the bottle a couple nights ago. It had been open for the better part of a week, and I didn’t like it much in the first place, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that it would be a waste to toss it without giving it one last shot.

It was the best it had ever been.

It was weak, no doubt about it. But that actually was a good thing for this wine to become. The harsh, rubbery flavor had faded. The wine left no taste at all after its initial inoffensive splash. I finished it painlessly.

A note about supporting local businesses.

I love small, locally run wine shops. A look at the links to the right reveals two of my favorites, Fine Wine Brokers in Lincoln Square and the South Loop Wine Cellar on South Michigan. You encounter friendly, passionate employees eager to help you find what you’re looking for. I often fear for them in the shadow of the Binny’s and Sam’s shops of the world with their enormous warehouses and advertising budgets.

On the other hand, I love wandering the aisles at a big store and being overwhelmed at the sheer number of bottles. I also enjoy picking up bargains during their many sales. (I have a Binny’s card. In fact, the next time I buy something there, I am due for a $10 rebate.)

This causes me some guilt.

I have arrived at this uneasy truce: I buy at the smaller spots often, and I buy at the larger shops during their giant sales.

It seems like every month Binny’s has a big storewide sale. Sometimes the savings are negligible, but sometimes they’re half off or more, It’s pushing my limit a little to buy a $30 bottle of wine. But a $55 bottle marked down to $30 is pretty attractive.

This is a lot of rationalization, I know. And I run the risk of falling into a “pricey=good” assumption. But it’s a pretty easy rule to live by, and it serves me well.

I was at Binny’s earlier this week, and I found a Da Vinci 2003 Brunello di Montalcino marked down pretty severely. About half off. I think it was from $50 to $26.

When I showed -j-j-, she pointed out how much that Da Vinci drawing is beloved by wine label designers.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Villa Sonia 2006 Ripasso...Continued

I second Notnits' assertion about the tar and the burning tires. When I taste wine, I tend to get some visual locked into my head, and it takes me some time to zero in on what I'm tasting. In this instance the images were: Garage, Blacktop in August, and New Car (or more specifically, one of those novelty scratch-n-sniff stickers that claims "New Car Smell".)

Not to beat up on it...the wine seems to mean well. There is a crackle on the tongue and in the gums that felt nice. But it never developed.

The chips and hummus didn't help.

The following evening I made some pesto and gave it another shot. Not much better. Though the basil did seem to lift the tar-ish afterburn and bring out some decent berry flavors.

Unfortunately, with this wine it seemed like too many miles to go for too little payoff.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Villa Sonia 2006 Ripasso

I was hoping my first review would be a positive one.

Not long ago, I was at Fine Wine Brokers in Lincoln Square, and I saw two identically priced ripasso wines on a shelf in the Italian section. The hand-written cards stated that if you love big Italian reds and haven’t tried a ripasso, you should right away.

I bought one of them—a 2006 Remo Farina—and it was great. Smoky, earthy, spicy. On my next trip, I decided to buy the second one, the Villa Sonia. I just opened it a few minutes ago.

Not much nose to speak of at all. The first sip was bold and spicy, but with a bit of dishwater undertone that I didn’t find very promising.

There’s some tar, and there’s a sense that it might be trying to develop into a warm earthiness, but the result is almost acrid. The taste doesn’t stay on the tongue long, but when it disperses, it leaves an unpleasant aftertaste and a trace of burning tires.

I let it sit for a while, hoping it would open up into something more pleasant. The best it was able to muster for me was a little bit of earthy raspberry. But all in all, I was pretty disappointed.

I did some in-depth reading about ripasso that maintains that the wine is easy to pair with food. As it happens, my girlfriend just called, and she’s on her way over with some chips and hummus. Maybe this wine will be better with something to cling to.