Sunday, September 26, 2010


For some reason, I have a subscription to Wine Spectator magazine. I have tried to get rid of it, but it keeps arriving.

It stems from when I found an offer for a free issue, or something. I think the deal was that I’d have a free issue sent to me, then I’d get a postcard asking if I wanted to continue. If I sent it back checked “CANCEL,” they’d stop sending me issues. If I didn’t, they’d keep sending issues and eventually bill me.

Either they never sent the postcard, or they sent it and it never got to me, or I received it and just didn’t notice, because the next thing I knew, I had a bill. It’s an expensive magazine, and it’s mainly aimed at people who can afford expensive magazines. There are a lot of tips on building the perfect wine cellar and where to stay in the Alps.

In an ad they run to attract advertisers, they even refer to their readers as “affluent.”

Anyway, I canceled that subscription, and they were very understanding about it. They said I could keep any additional issues I’d received already free of charge, and they’d waive the price.

But I kept getting the magazine. Every month I get another one, and every month I make a mental note to investigate and make sure they’re not going to send me another bill. And every month I forget to investigate, until the following month’s issue arrives.

Anyway, flipping through the most recent one to arrive, I found some recipes. A Napa Valley chef shared some dishes that would pair well with wines. One of them involves boiling spaghetti in wine.

I made it last night. I didn’t want to waste any good stuff to boil pasta in, so I wandered over to Andy’s Fruit Ranch and picked up the cheapest bottle I could find. I wound up with this:2007 Fiorano Montepulciano d'Abruzzo. $5.99.

They say you shouldn’t cook with any wine you wouldn’t drink, but this recipe involves boiling an entire bottle of red wine. That's just too much going into the food instead of into a glass.
As I chopped up the turnip greens and set about the other prep work, I popped open the bottle, and Jen and I took a little swig. It was awful.

Kind of a weak handshake of a wine, with a bit of a septic tank bouquet. I worried a bit; I was going to heat this stuff to boiling and soak food in it. But maybe it would be okay. Maybe it would amount to a tinge of wine flavoring instead of a full infusion.

I pressed forward. Purple pasta, dark green leaves, pale slices of garlic. The Joker’s color palette.It wasn’t bad. A little soft (the pasta should not have cooked as long as it did), and the noodles did contain a trace of what I disliked so much about the wine. But I’m willing to give it another go. Jen and I have discovered a couple of $10 bottles that we like quite a bit. I’m willing to sacrifice a bottle for another try.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

The Wine Goddess

The Chopping Block had a tent sale a couple Sundays ago. I got wind of it through Facebook, and it sounded fun. There would be a bunch of items on sale, some samples from their Big Green Egg grill, and a bunch of wines at 30% off. Jen and I made plans to stop by.

They were receiving their new season’s worth of wines, picked out by the Wine Goddess, Diana Hamann. To clear room, they were marking down last season’s and pouring samples.

It would be our fourth wine tasting of the weekend. Friday night, we went to the South Loop Wine Cellar; Saturday, we spent early afternoon at the Binny’s in Lincoln Park and late afternoon at Fine Wine Brokers. But we didn’t buy anything at those three, partly because nothing really blew us away, and partly because we really didn’t need any wine. There was plenty at home to crack open.

We made our way to the back patio at the Chopping Block, and something like twenty different wines were spread out on the bar. Hamann chatted wildly with everyone who stopped by. She handpicks each wine they sell, so she had a story and an opinion about every bottle.

She caught site of us and asked what we’d like to sample. We asked if it was okay if we ran the gamut.

“Bless you,” she said.

She told us that she’d go easy on the pours, so we could pace ourselves. And she did, for the first two bottles. Then she splashed away, giving us the same amount she was pouring for everyone else.

Jen and I have a hard time dumping wine. Even if it’s something we don’t particularly like, pouring it out seems tragic. Sometimes I will make a show of holding my cup upside-down over the cuspidor, but usually there are a couple tiny drops, so little liquid that I have to shake the cup.

So, we got tipsier and tipsier, in the middle of the sweltering afternoon.

That may have accounted for how deeply we fell in love with every wine we tasted. So many of them jumped out at us. We began to make mental notes of the ones we would buy. Someone grabbed the last two bottles of a rosé we had our eyes on. Taking a cue from that experience, we began hoarding a few bottles of our own.

At some point, we noticed a sign on the bar that said we’d get a free Chopping Block wine class if we bought a case. Well. At that point, it became clear that the only responsible thing to do would be to buy twelve bottles.

I think there were only a couple of repeats. We slipped them all into a cardboard box (except for one fat bottle that wouldn’t fit between the partitions). We weren’t in a position to lug them home then and there, so Jen had to return a couple days later with her sister’s truck.

We literally ran out of room in the wine refrigerator. That has never happened before.

The wine class we selected was “The ‘Nose’ of Wine,” which met on September 3, a couple nights ago. Diana Hamann taught it. When Jen and I showed up, she recognized us.

So, we bought more wine than we intended, we helped them clear out old inventory, and we bought a second class to go with the free one so we could both attend.

I guess we showed them.

Friday, August 27, 2010

How about a nice moo-lot/cow-bernet blend?

Canadian cattle enjoy red wine with their feed.

“It definitely changes their personalities. They moo a lot more with each other. They get really chatty,” she said.

Been there.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Was 1780 a good year?

Divers find what is thought to be the world's oldest drinkable champagne.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Here I Grigio Again

Whitesnake is coming out with a wine. A zinfandel.

Robert Parker in The Wine Advocate describes it as a "bodacious, cheeky little wine, filled to the brim with the spicy essence of sexy, slippery Snakeyness."

Wait, sorry—that’s Whitesnake lead singer David Coverdale.

Look for it July 1.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

2009 Albino Rocca Moscato d’Asti

I occasionally make hay about how much I dislike too much sweetness in my wines. Really, it’s just the overbearing sweetness you might get from a cheap merlot that tastes like cherry candy or something like that. Unwelcome sweetness, sweetness without context.

Jen and I tasted a Moscato d’Asti that was real sweet and real delicious. A 2009 bottled by the Italian producer Albino Rocca. Incredibly floral in aroma, easy drinking, lightly fizzy. The pourer had two or three Moscatos, each sweeter than the previous. This was the high end of the sweetness scale.

The Muscat grape may be the oldest grape variety to be domesticated, and there is evidence that wine from Muscat grapes may have been served at King Midas’s funeral feast. This is intriguing, not least of all because I thought King Midas was fictional.

This would be a fantastic dessert wine, or failing that, a great breakfast wine. I’m not sure how the idea got into our heads, but we opened up our bottle one Saturday morning with scrambled eggs, applewood smoked bacon, and a few berries.

Heaven. The wine splashed coldly through the bacon grease and provided a bracing accompaniment to the fruit. Don’t tell Jen, but I thought it had a bouquet reminiscent of soap. Like, really good, fancy soap you’d encounter at an upscale Paris hotel.

We were prepared for a day of foggy tipsiness, but the tipsiness never came. We couldn’t figure out why we weren’t drunker than we were, having finished off a bottle first thing in the morning. Then we noticed: Alcohol 5% by volume.

Hell, you could give this to children.
Part of a complete breakfast.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Drinkin’ Square

Jen and I will be at this tonight. Lincoln Square plus Chopping Block plus wine, all for $5. If it’s anything like I hope, I’ll float home on a cloud of bliss.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Pasta, Meet Wine

I can’t remember how I first came upon the recipe for linguine avgolemono. But I have a theory.

My parents went to South America a few years ago and returned with a drink called the “pisco sour.” They brought back a few pouches of mix powder—just add pisco!—but the full recipe from scratch involves pisco (a South American liqueur distilled from grapes), lemon juice, simple syrup, bitters, and egg whites.

It drinks like a deadly cross between a margarita and the greatest Kool-Aid ever, and it probably warrants its own blog entry. But when I made it, I felt weird using just the whites of the eggs and tossing out the yolks. I felt the need to salvage the yolks somehow.

So I typed “egg yolks” into Epicurious and found linguine avgolemono, a Greek pasta dish involving not just egg yolks, but also artichoke hearts, green beans, cream, and parsley. It’s got a great creamy, earthy, slightly acidic thing going on, and it’s one of a handful of go-to dishes I can be relied upon to make.

Anyway, one day I was tasting at Fine Wine Brokers, and one of the whites being sampled was Béchar, 2007. I have a really hard time describing this wine, other than “unusual.” I’ve described it before as cake-like, and there’s a hefty mouthfeel and a mild sweetness that make me think so. But there’s also smoky edge to it, and kind of an earthy perfume that luxuriates in the sinuses.

I immediately knew it would go with linguine avgolemono. An unexpected cool sharpness that would complement the flavors while slicing through the cream.

I have bought several bottles, and I have only drunk it with linguine avgolemono. I brought Jen into the fold, and recently the two of us took to contemplating the flavors of the wine.

I kept saying pound cake, she kept saying breakfast.

“Do you get bacon?” she asked. We were on my back deck finishing off the bottle, our stomachs full of pasta and artichokes. I did not get bacon. I maintained there was something more bready and sweet.

“Yes, but there’s the smoke,” she said, and she squinted into the distance and flexed her jaw. She does this to simulate eating, which triggers her brain to analyze taste. (At least, that’s our theory of why she does this.) “And something kind of meaty.”

We sipped and analyzed in silence. Soon I tasted it too—bacon!

We reached the conclusion that the wine tasted like French toast that had been made in the same skillet as the rashers of bacon you made earlier. Why on earth that would go so well with a Greek pasta dish, I can’t begin to imagine, but it does. And thanks to the brief restock of Béchar a few weeks ago, and my subsequent consumption of the one I’d been saving, I am back to owning the last bottle in all of Chicago.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Austria and Australia

Not quite the onslaught of oenological onanism as last week, but I bought a couple bottles.

The pourer today at FWB was a chatty woman, one of those pourers who sometimes forget to pour. But she was friendly, and the first wine she had was a Grüner Veltliner (Huber, 2008). I first heard of Grüner Veltliner on a wine podcast called "Wine for Newbies," and I believe the host of the podcast said it was the most common grape grown in Austria. The Huber I tasted today was very chalky and mineraly, like licking wet limestone.

Two reds were competing for my dollar. I ended up with the last one she poured, a Heartland Australian shiraz, 2008. Rich and decadent, it carries a long chocolate caramel finish.

And as long as I was keeping the alcohol-based businesses of Lincoln Avenue afloat, I figured I'd head down to the Half Acre brewery and pick up a growler of Gossamer Golden Ale. George is having a housewarming cookout tomorrow, and it will be enjoyed there.

I am a big fan of Half Acre, particularly their Lager and their Daisy Cutter Pale Ale. I only wish they sold souvenirs. Seems like a real missed opportunity for them.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Frédéric Magnien Pinot Noir, 2007

Jen is away, so I stopped at Dawali for a chicken shawerma sandwich. In my experience, it goes really well with bold red wines.

Last night, we opened one of the forty bottles I bought over the weekend, the pinot noir from The Chopping Block. I got a thick dark chocolate and red berry taste from it, like eating a liquefied gourmet candy bar.

I tried it with the sandwich. It went well. It’s a pretty spicy pinot.

I noticed that Jen had done some shopping. I finished the sandwich and ate some tortilla chips dipped in guacamole, and for the hell of it some tortilla chips dipped in hummus.

I went back to the wine. It suddenly tasted like Welch’s.

Such a mystery is the human tongue.

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Don’t Tell Jen

I bought five freaking bottles of wine today.
You can tell her about the toilet paper.

I headed to Fine Wine Brokers for my weekly free buzz. Jen was elsewhere, so I was on my own.

The second bottle on the tasting was a rosé. Happily, rosés are not the awful, melted-lollipop atrocities they’ve gained a reputation for being. They can be more complex and less cloying that their worst examples, and they vary from sweet and dark to light and crisp. They pair well with everything, even roadside pizza in France.
Pictured: Tom, pizza, rosé, France.

This wine, a blend of cinsault and syrah grapes from Domaine Sainte-Eugénie in Corbières, was a refreshing splash on the tongue. I said to the pourer, “It might just be the color, but I get a bit of watermelon on the finish.”

He replied, “Yeah, maybe. I get strawberry.”

Dammit! Why do I always taste the wrong thing?!

To save face, I obviously had to buy a bottle. Chicago will eventually get muggy (though today feels like a warm day in November), and this will go down like cold liquid happiness.

The next wine was from Domaine Gachot-Monot, a pinot noir with some bite that will cling beautifully to some salmon.
I plan to do a lot of this over the summer.

Then I found Scott and thanked him for a recommendation he made earlier in the week. (On Thursday, Jen and I were going to have a hunk of Humboldt Fog cheese for dinner [shut up, we’re allowed], and Jen read that it would pair well with a sauvignon blanc. I stopped by FWB and asked Scott for a recommendation, and he produced a 2007 SlipStream from Western Australia. It went perfectly—nice and grassy and clean.) Today, I told him how much we enjoyed the wine, and he essentially said, “You like grassy? You should try this!”

He showed me a 2008 Sancerre from Eric Louis.

I didn’t want to anger the gods of wine recommendation, so I bought it.

Okay, so I managed to leave FWB with a mere three bottles. Then I made the mistake of stopping into The Chopping Block, where they’re selling off their old stock of wine at 20% off to make room for the new stock.

The two women behind the counter, probably noticing that I was already carrying three bottles of wine, spotted their mark and swarmed me mercilessly. “What sort of wines do you like?” asked one. “Well, with the summer coming, I’m probably going to be into some dry, crisp whites.”

She pointed to a Gavi from Stefano Farina and said it was strong and dry and not to everyone’s taste. That sounded like a challenge. It was also the last bottle. Done. Hand it over.

I also mentioned that I liked bold, spicy reds. She directed me to a Frédéric Magnien pinot noir. At this point, I was like “Why not. Here’s my credit card.”

Jen and I are pretty good at finishing off bottles of wine. But I think I buy them even faster. At this rate, we’ll never run completely out.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

2007 Béchar Fiano di Avellino

I am very excited about this.

Yesterday, Jen and I popped into Fine Wine Brokers in Lincoln Square for their weekly tasting. A worker (I believe his name is Scott) who has come to recognize us greeted us with, "I think we have a surprise for you in the next room."

My first thought was, I bet they got more of the 2007 Béchar Fiano di Avellino that Jen and I love so much!

This was quickly followed by, Nonsense. That wine is long gone. I bought the last bottle in existence several months ago, and I am guarding it jealously because it will never be seen again.

We went into the tasting room, and there it was: the wine we had fetishized for so long, the third wine along the table.

I discovered it at a tasting at FWB over a year ago--a unique, fragrant, mouth-filling cake of a wine. It pairs beautifully with food, particularly a Greek pasta dish I enjoy making called linguine avgolemono--noodles, green beans, and artichokes in a lemon cream sauce. But according to Scott, it wasn't to everyone's taste. I bought it there a couple of times, and the final bottle sat there week after week until I finally snatched it up. I promised him that if he ever re-stocked it I would buy it.

If the wine was unpopular in the past, it seemed to be more beloved yesterday afternoon. The small crowd was very complimentary toward it, and I watched a woman snatch one of the three bottles from the sampling table. I picked one up as casually as I could, but make no mistake: I would have thrown punches to make sure I got one.

Monday, April 26, 2010

2005 Weingut August Ziegler Gimmeldinger Biengarten Riesling Auslese

In 2007, I took a trip with a couple friends to France. Among the regions we visited was Sauternes, home of the intensely complex, sweet golden wines that bear its name.They’re pretty amazing, but not something to kick back and suck down. They demand to be studied with your full attention, and I still end up feeling like I’m out of my depth.

Jen and I recently bought a Riesling, an August Ziegler 2005. If Sauternes is an aloof beauty, then this Riesling is its hot, fun sister.A lot of the same notes are there: honey, pineapple, and an edge of black tea, but I found it a lot less intimidating and more inviting than a Sauternes. Its texture was almost like a real good vanilla pound cake. Jen tasted honeysuckle. (She is from the South, so she knows what that means.) She also tasted peach and mango, which I couldn’t manage to pick up. It was great with a bowl of fruit—strawberries, plums, pears.And it was sweet, but a good sweet. I thought I imagined tasting crystals of sugar, until Jen pointed out that there were actually sugar crystals in the glass.
I think the bottle was about $30. Definitely a buy-again, for a hot summer night.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Ripasso Rivisited

Yesterday, Jen and I went to a tasting at Fine Wine Brokers in Lincoln Square. We surveyed the bottles the pourer had lined up on the table and noticed with some trepidation that the last bottle was a Villa Sonia ripasso, which we had a pretty unfavorable reaction to in the first couple posts on this blog.

But, we don’t let fear of disappointment stop us from drinking free splashes of wine, so we went ahead and tried it. I wondered if we’d have the same reaction to it.

To our surprise, it was fascinating. Jen pointed out that it tasted like the remains of a campfire. Damp, smoky, ashy—like you stepped out of your tent in the forest the morning after a night spent around the fire and took a huge breath of the doused aftermath.

I wondered if we’d just gotten a bad bottle the last time around. I made note of the year: 2007. The one we tried back in September was an ’06. Frankly, I don’t know enough to know if that’s a standard change from the same vineyard from one year to the next, but it sure underlines the mind-boggling variables that go into enjoying wine. We were willing to pass this wine by forever, but with a new, accidental glimpse, it might be worth buying again. (It might be awesome on a cool summer evening, outside.)

Anyway, we didn’t buy it just yet. But we did buy a bottle of bobal, a Spanish wine grape I’d never heard of before. Vega Tolosa 2007. The bottle says “Old Wines,” but I think it's supposed to say “Old Vines.”Jen said it tasted like a Madeira without the Madeira. Figgy, concentrated, and sweet, but without the weight or the eternal heavenliness. I sensed a nice sharp finish that kept it from being too fruity. We’re thinking of making some sort of Spanish pork product.

Monday, April 12, 2010


This flick on FlowingData shows you in dizzying, cartoony detail how wine is made.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

More Essential Wine Blogging Forthcoming, We Promise

h/t Married to the Sea.

A combination of busyness, laziness, and creative bankruptcy has kept this blog fallow for a long time, but know that we have not abandoned it. More to come.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Best Wine Ever

"A succulent, deep and spicy blend of Granache and Syrah from the Southern Rhone Valley. A wine with new world texture and old world flavors - soft and slick on the palate with deep, foresty blackberry notes, bramble fruit and a finishing pepper kick."
This is the text of the handwritten note taped by bottles of 2006 Clos-du-Mont Olivet Montueil La Levade Cotes Du Rhone at Fine Wine Brokers in Lincoln Square. Notnits and I were browsing around after a tasting and discovered it. Pretty much every word on the little sheet (Foresty, Blackberry, Bramble, Pepper) declared You will love this. At around $15.00, it would have been silly to pass it by.

That night we picked up some chicken shawarma from Dawali down the street and ate on the back porch. Notnits opened up the Cotes du Rhone and we gave it a shot.

I think any one who eats Middle Eastern food on a regular basis (or knows anything about wine) would be horrified to learn that we paired this with the shawarma, but what we discovered delighted both of us.

The Clos-du-Mont was dark and plummy purple - it's the kind of liquid you can barely see light through. But it wasn't too thick when I swished it around in my mouth. All the notes were there, bramble, forest and pepper.

When we tasted it with the Shawarma, I was pleased to find that the tastes didn't clash at all. In fact, they paired very well; the nutmeg-or maybe cinnamon-enhanced the earthy overtones in the wine and the tahini and cucumbers pulled out some of the lighter minerality. (When I say minerality, I mean this: imagine licking a rock.)

I know very little about Old World vs. New World wines, except where they come from. My experience with both is difficult to describe. Drinking New World wines (
North and South America, Australia, New Zealand and South Africa), is very pleasurable and fun. A Chilean Syrah is great to drink with some red meat or barbeque. I find that I'm more interested in drinking the wines than I am ruminating over intricacies of tasting notes.

When I drink Old World wines (France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Austria), my experience is far more three dimensional. I'm transported. These vines are old, and they announce their maturity with every sip, swirl or smell. I tend to launch right over the moon about a particular hint of leather or dry mesa. "WOW. It's like I'm in somebody's kitchen!" or "This tastes like a flowery meadow at dusk." Once the initial image explodes in my head, I take it apart and decipher what elements of the flavor bring flowers or simmering sauce to mind. Old World wines offer a depth and nuance that can go on for days.

In my childhood home, (up on top of Allen Mountain in the Appalachians of Western North Carolina), we had a playroom. This Playroom was damp, cavernous and suffered consistent water leakage. When it rained, the room was practically vaporous. It was mostly underground, with a small window looking out just at the earth-line into the woods behind our house. The Playroom was a creepy place; wet walls, the smell of mildew, Earth, and soaked bark. But we played there all the time.

I tasted the Playroom in the Mont Olivet. The old dank flavor, the fragrance of the rotting woods behind the house, the weird feelings of childhood fear and comfort, imagination. All this poured from the bottle in the chill of a late summer night, eating shawarma.

We've purchased it several times since and I can't recommend it enough. I will say that I'm not sure your experience will be as transcendent as mine. I'm positive of it - it's sort of unfair to assert that you will re-experience the magic of childhood when you drink this. So, on the short's a good wine (with a good price) that I happen to love.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Wine Away Is Magic

-j-j- and I went to La Creperie recently, a little French place in Lakeview. We were in a bit of a hurry to catch a movie (Fantastic Mr. Fox) across the street, so we each ordered a glass of wine, and I waited at our table while she darted across the street to purchase our tickets.

While she was gone, the waiter arrived with two glasses of red. As he approached the table and brought my glass in for its landing, I had a brief thought flicker across my mind: What if he spills that on me? That thought was immediately dismissed: He is a professional waiter.

One second later, like a snapshot, I saw the glass tilted toward me, its contents a tiny vertical wall of crimson liquid. Well whaddaya know, I thought, and in an instant the entire glass was on my lap, soaking my jeans.

The kid was staggeringly apologetic, and he didn’t do it on purpose, and I didn’t want to be the Indignant Asshole Customer or make him feel worse than he already did. On the other hand, what the hell, man? I stifled my anger and frustration. How convincingly, I’m not sure.

-j-j- returned to find me stone-faced with a dishtowel on my crotch, and she quickly put together what had happened. I retreated to the restroom and sopped up what I could, then slipped the towel into the leg of my pants to form a barrier between me and my wet jeans.

All our wine was comped. I eventually settled down. The kid never stopped apologizing. But now I had to sit through the movie with wet pants and my worries about whether the jeans would ever be wearable again.

My mom gave me a bottle of Wine Away for Christmas several years ago, in the wake of a massive spill on a new pair of khakis I’d suffered earlier that year. For a long time, I had no need for it, so it sat untouched in the closet with my laundry detergent. Then some time later, I dropped a bottle of wine and the ensuing crash spattered a few drops on a sweatshirt. Cursing the whole time, I took the sweatshirt and the Wine Away to the Laundromat. With absolutely no optimism, I spritzed the potion on the stain.

Like something out of a movie, the wine stain vanished before my eyes, and all that remained was an acrid scent of burnt oranges.

While I watched Fantastic Mr. Fox, my mind kept returning to my depleted stash of Wine Away. Would it work on denim? Was there a danger of letting the stain set for hours before using it? Did I have enough left for the size of the stain?

I got home and spritzed like my life depended on it. I had barely enough left to cover the wine stain, and that’s including when I unscrewed the cap and shook every last drop onto my jeans. The denim was dark and damp, so it was hard to tell for sure, but it looked like the stain was disappearing.

I washed in cold water and drip dried.


So I hereby throw my support and endorsement behind Wine Away red wine stain remover.