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.