Thursday, December 25, 2008

Two Torrontes - Tetra and Glass

On the left, the Tetra-Pak protected Yellow + Blue, on the right, something in a (deep breath), glass bottle (ooh!)

Today I look back on a week of tasting two different Torrontes, a varietal native to Argentina. The two contenders are a 2008 from Yellow + Blue, packaged in an environmentally-friendly Tetra Pak, and the 2007 Familia Zuccardi Santa Julia, made from organic grapes, and packaged in that old-school, enviromentally-evil container known as . . . glass.

The Santa Julia was purchased at Sam's, for about $9.00; this was purchased to give a comparison to the Yellow + Blue which came as a gift from K.C. Geen of GolinHarris.

Before reporting on the wines, a quick glimpse at the Torrontes grape and an overview into Tetra Pak packaging.

On the website, Susan Balbo of the Dominio del Plata Winery, wrote a mouth-watering description of the grape:

“Enticing aromas that are strikingly similar to Viognier, with hints of peach pit, flowers, and orange citrus fruit. On the
palate, it has a beautiful structure and acidity along with enticing fruit flavors that keep you coming back for another sip, and plenty of body for a wine that shows such delicate aromas and flavors. Fruity, floral and yet still quite dry, this wine has to be tasted to be believed. Best enjoyed in its youth either by itself, or as a wonderful partner with smoked meats, mild to medium-strong cheeses, and seafood. Great partner for spicy food and Thai as well."

You can read about Tetrapak at (where else?) The packaging consists of a combination of plastic and aluminum coated paperboard, and is frequently used for milk and juices. It can easily preserve such liquids for several months. The wine industry has been slow to adopt Tetra Pak, but it's light weight and lower cost than glass may make it more common in the future.

So, what about the wines? The Yellow + Blue's nose reminded me of peach, tangerine and pineapple, while the Santa Julia evoked grass and pineapple, but much more faintly. On the mouthfeel, the Yellow + Blue produced a sharper acidity than the Santa Julia, and more of an orange component versus the grapefruit of the Santa Julia.

Surprisingly, the freshness and lively fruit of the Yellow + Blue didn't fade until the fourth and final day of tasting, while the Santa Julia, even on the second day, started to lose some of that energy.

It's really a personal preference which wine you would enjoy more; if you are more into the orange and tangerine flavor, and a really sharp tangy flavor, go with the Yellow + Blue; if you prefer a little more body in your white wines, go with the Santa Julia.

Hopefully, other wineries will experiment with Tetrapak packaging; I tell many customers at The Night Thing that it's not the packaging that matters, it's what's inside the packaging!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Where is the Wine? At

I've been asked at a few recent tastings how to keep informed on all the wine events taking place in greater Chicago. The most thorough website listing events is, a national clearinghouse for tastings, dinners and wine classes.

Founder and developer Eric V. Orange created this site in 2000, and has listed close to 200,000 events since then.

When I look at the Chicago listings for any random month, I feel that, compared to other cities, Chicago is quite fortunate to have such an active and thirsty market for wine education and socializing.

Eric also has a place on his site for wine blogs; readers can vote their favorites higher up his list. Chicago Pinot ranks a distant #419 right now. I could sure use some votes from my fans!

It's Not a Wonderful Ad Campaign

It's a fuzzy photo from my cell phone, but hopefully you can make it out. Here is a banner advertisement seen this past week on the #6 CTA bus. You may recognize the typeface as well Donna Reed and James Stewart listening in on their phone (don't you miss those old school phones?)

No, Donna and James are not promoting another airing of It's a Wonderful Life, their images are promoting a vital Illinois institution which, to my knowledge, is completely corruption-free!

I'm not an anti-gambling crusader, and am not advising readers to boycott the Illinois lottery. When the jackpot passes one hundred million, I will wait in line for a ticket or two and fantasize about all the Bordeaux and Burgundy I will fill my cellar (aka 6 x 6 x 9 feet storage locker) with should I win.

But there must be some more creative method to promote the lottery than to exploit images from a classic movie that promoted, let's see, thrift, loyalty, humility; not exactly character traits in abundance in Illinois right now!

To use a famous wine descriptor; this banner ad is icky. Lottery tickets are not a Wonderful Gift, and holiday ad campaigns for the lottery are not a Wonderful Idea.

P.S.: And I am not even a big fan of the movie!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Advice for President-Elect Obama

Yes, we all know President Elect is busy with many important issues; choosing his cabinet, deciding who (or what) to bail out, trying to decide how many Illinois governors he remembers meeting. But eventually, he must address the major issues of our time, namely, the ones involving wine.

Here are some suggestions from some of my favorite bloggers and Chicago based personalities about the one question that really matters:

What can President-elect Obama do for the wine industry?

From Amy Gardner at WineTalent:

"The best thing for the wine industry that President Obama could do would be to allow the free sale and shipping of wine across state borders. I think this would allow fair trade and also provide some opportunities for underserved wine regions."

From John Terlato of Terlato Wine Group:

"The President of the United States is a high profile opinion leader whose influence is global in scope. It appears as if the Obama's genuinely enjoy fine dining and wine as a lifestyle choice. As they continue to enjoy wine and fine dining and express a visible appreciation for a diverse range of U.S. wine brands and varietals, this might serve as an acknowledgement of their interest in wine as a lifestyle choice and could also positively impact the U.S. wine and food sectors.”

From Maggie Tosch of Outside the Lines, Inc. and Wine and Hospitality

"I am sure you are going to get a huge response saying 'Get rid of the three tier system!' It creates undue burden on the winery, with most of the profit going to the middle man with both the producer and end consumer paying the price."

From Alyssa Rapp at Bottlenotes:

"The United States’ wine industry is governed by the 21st Amendment that grew out of Prohibition. The 21st Amendment established a “Three-Tier system” for the distribution of alcoholic beverages in the U.S.; wine therefore must move from a winery/importer, to a wholesaler, to a retailer, before arriving at an end consumer. As the e-commerce world continues to evolve and grow, regulators at every level would greatly benefit by putting consumers’ needs first by making it as easy as possible for them to purchase wine from any location (winery, retailer, etc), and receive it in any state in which they live. There is no reason that wine should be any more difficult to purchase online than shoes."

From Amy Garman at South Loop Wine Cellar:

"I think it would be wonderful if the Obamas could somehow promote the wine industry or wine drinking, but I don't see that being the first thing on the list and it could lead to an image problem. The President Elect does, however, have great enthusiasm for both innovating and making American industry more environmentally friendly. Wine making is an agricultural business and I think that we will see great gains in efficiency and green practices in both farming and agriculture throughout the Obama administration. This will not only reduce production costs, but help save the planet - which is good for everyone!"

From Don Sritong at Just Grapes:

"I would like President Elect Obama to push for amending or repealing the 21st amendment and place federal controls on wine shipping laws. I would like him to allow consumers to buy wine from which ever state they choose. Free trade is the basis of our beautiful capitalistic society yet our liquor laws go against every grain of this. We need to progress from our Puritanical past and open up the state borders to the freedom of choice of wine!"

From Alpana Singh of What Would Alpana Drink?

"The White House serves only US wines and there is a great tradition of serving them at state dinners, etc. I know many people would be inspired to take up wine if President Elect Obama were to publicly announced his appreciation for it. He is so well respected and admired by many so his just merely saying how he likes to relax with a glass of wine would do wonders for the industry. Just look what happened when he announced they would be getting a dog!"

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Around the World with Alyssa Rapp

Alyssa Rapp (right) joins Chicago Pinot for a quick picture before signing more copies of her new book Bottlenotes Guide to Wine.

"Bottlenotes is a personal sommelier service; a platform to match wine to a buyer's personal taste." That's Alyssa Rapp, founder and CEO of Bottlenotes, an online company that's part online wine retail and part MySpace. There are 60,000 registered users of, over half of which have completed their Personal Taste Profiletm. Bottlenotes founded in 2005 and Ms. Rapp, like any budding entrepreneur, has used many different strategies to raise its profile. From personal appearances, podcasts, interviews, even filling goodie bags at the Oscars with her gift certificates. Her latest move is her first book Bottlenotes Guide to Wine: Around the World in 80 Sips, which she promoted at a launch party November 5 at the W Hotel on Lake Shore Drive. For two hours, she tirelessly signed books, answered audience questions and invited us to taste six wines currently available on her website.

"The book evolved from the Bottlenotes' Winecyclopaedia, a reference guide for wine enthusiasts replete with wine tasting terms, region guides, varietal guides, and more." The Winecyclopaedia features contributions from Ms. Rapp and many from her Yale and Stanford college interns over the past few summers. It starts with a history of wine, both as a beverage drunk for survival as well as the catalyst for a global industry. She discusses how wine is made (red, white and sparkling wines each have a different "recipe") and how to develop your personal "taste profile" (there is much more about this on Ms. Rapp's web site; fortunately, the book doesn't feel like a 300 page advertisement for it.)

Like most introductory wine books, Ms. Rapp also outlines the expected flavors you can expect to find from most of the major red and white varietals preferred by American consumers. I have probably read about a dozen of these books and it's always fun to see which grapes make the "major" group and those relegated to the "other varieties" section (Malbec is an "other"?)

The second part of the book takes us from Napa to New Zealand, to sixteen major wine regions; describing their history, what grapes have produced the best wine, and predicts their future market potential. If Ms. Rapp's guidebook is updated, I would like for her to include maps in the next edition; it would make this section a little easier to follow.

Overall, a very fun event. Bottlenotes, her web site, has just been updated, making it easier to find new wines to try and possibly new friends to share them with.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Holiday Wine Buying - with Stephen Wroblewski of Fleming's Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar

Maybe you're not like me. You don't think about the next bottle of wine you want to try. Your eyes don't light up with anticipation when you read in the Tribune or on a blog that a new wine shop has opened in Chicagoland.

But maybe you've been drafted to pick up "a bottle", especially around the holidays. Maybe your co-workers or your little sister have this picture of you as a wine expert.

Stephen Wroblewski, Manager of Chicago restaurant Fleming's Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar, feels your pain. Chicago Pinot spoke with him last week to get some ideas, not necessarily about specific bottles, but about regions and grape varietals that would please different palates during the holidays.

I started by asking him for suggestions for what to bring to the most important CEO's in our lives, our parents. "At our resturant, we have received good guest feedback from South American wines particularly Malbecs. We have one from Pasucal Toso that is very popular and should be available in most stores from between eighteen and twenty-two dollars. It has the body of a Cabernet, fantastic aromatics, but not too overpowering. If you are buying for family, you might want to find something new for them to try without seeming to scary." He also preferred Tempranillo blends from Spain; "they are Renaissance wines, with a long flavor profile and very female friendly."

Then I asked him about Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners; with their almost potluck assembly of foods, what would blend in best. Mr. Wroblewski recommended light bodied Pinot Noirs ("they won't get beat up by Grandma's stuffing, but you might want to avoid California Pinots, they are a little hotter and higher in tannin"). He also thought highly of bringing sparkling wine (especially for appetizers and vegetables) and Beaujolais ("put a slight chill on it first, it can have a throwback appeal for your more experienced drinkers").

Finally, I asked him what to buy for the Wine Nerd. We probably all know one or two. What can you surprise him or her with and really make it look like you have done your homework?

Mr. Wroblewski suggested a few regions that have wine stardom in their future. He mentioned the Diamond Mountain region of Napa Valley ("these are big, robust wines you are still enjoying a minute after tasting them, they can last ten years") and Chilean wines, which he described as really "pretty" and offer just a little different taste experience for an American palate.

He also suggested that two half bottles might make a more attractive gift for the so-called wine expert in your life than one whole bottle. I am no expert, but since I am the type who wants to have a little taste of every varietal at least once, I can understand this approach!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Interview with Steven Rigisich of Pinot Days

Steven Rigisich, along with his wife Lisa, are bringing back to Chicago last autumn's hit wine festival Pinot Days. Next Saturday November 15, join Chicago Pinot and other Pinot lovers at the Navy Pier to experience the world's best examples of wine made from the "Heartbreak Grape."

While waiting for that tasting, here are some thoughts about the current Pinot Noir scene from Steven himself:

"Chicago is a vibrant city with a creative food & wine market. In our opinion, the restaurant scene is the most innovative and exciting of all the major cities in America. With that comes people who are willing to explore and searching for the best, whether that is a wine to pair with food or drink alone. Pinot Noir is experiencing a surge in interest because those folks who are searching for perfection and innovation and discovering Pinot Noir."

"I don't believe 2008 is a banner year for California Pinot Noir. A dry spring, the worst frost in Northern California in 25 years which devastated many vineyards, a cool summer and early ripening all led to less flavors than in year's past. But that is pure conjecture right now because Pinot Noir, the fickle moody variety that it is, seems to transform itself through the course of maturation. So, who knows what we have right now, we will really know more in March or April. "

"With that said, 2007 was, in my opinion, the finest year California Pinot Noir has ever seen. The wines are as near-perfect as you can get. Whether you like your Pinot austere and feminine, intense and bold, lush and ripe, funky and earthy, this vintage performed at its best. It is really a unique vintage in that sense. Over the past few years, we have seen vintages that have fallen into the wheelhouse of one particular style or another. The 2004 and 2005 vintage are perfect examples of this. 2004 saw the "modern" producer excel due to a warm summer and ripe grapes where 2005 was the perfect vintage for the "traditional" producer who crafts structured and elegant Pinots. In 2007, both of these styles have excelled. "

"We have sixty producers attending Pinot Days from every appellation in California, Oregon, Michigan, Ontario, Germany, New Zealand and Australia. Some of the names folks know such as Siduri, Gray Farrell, Arcadian, Fess Parker, Calera, Roessler and Freeman will be presenting their wines as well as smaller wineries like August West, Raye's Hill, Dain Wines, Bjornstad Cellars, Talisman and Zepaltas who are making small amounts of some of the finest pinots in the market. The other fifty producers are also worthy of mention because they too are making incredible wines of character and soul. "

"We also will have some local flavor with wineries from the Michigan and Ontario area. Great Pinot is being grown and produced in more areas than people believe and folks should seek the wineries out because I think they will be surprised how good some of the wines from these areas are. It is the beauty of Pinot, it may be a bear to grow but when it is done right, no other variety can reach its

"Pinot has always had the status as the noble grape but it had that claim in Burgundy exclusively. In California, pinot struggled mostly because people were planting it in the wrong places. Then in the late 1980’s, growers began to realize that the grape belonged in cool climates like Anderson Valley and Santa Lucia rather than Napa, it began to flourish. The Pinot legacy is due to mavericks like Joseph Swan of J. Swan Winery, Josh Jensen of Calera, Burt Williams of Williams-Selyem, Richard Sanford of Alma Rosa and Francis Mahoney of Mahoney Vineyards who paved the way by taking the risks and discovering the best sites, clones and practices necessary to grow the best grapes."

"If you build on that with these very passionate and innovative "Young Turks" like Adam Lee of Siduri, Ed Kurtzman of August West and Ryan Zepaltas of Zepaltas Wines who have emerged as the new guard, you have truly great wines and the genesis of a cult. However, that is not enough. For that, you need the passion of the producers and consumers and the personalities like Gary Pisoni, Peter Cargasacchi and Michael Browne, who bring a perspective that is electric and, to be candid, a little crazy. If you add this all together, you create a community and with the community comes a cult. "

"If you use sales as a barometer, Pinot’s share of the market is still below Cabernet, Merlot, Chardonnay, Zinfandel and many other varieties. French Colombard has twice as many acres planted in California as Pinot Noir! But that is more a factor of where varieties can be planted than of the popularity of the heartbreak grape. The interest in pinot continues to rise exponentially as others are becoming flatter and that is due to the unequivocal fact that Pinot Noir is the ultimate food wine and you can never tire of their diverse renditions; there are simply too many styles, too much flavor and too many unique sites where it is grown. "

"So, in terms of quantity, you don’t find as many followers as in other varieties. However, in terms of quality, Pinot stands at the top. There is no doubt there is no more passionate follower than the one who considers themselves a Pinot-geek. That fact is proven at every Pinot Noir focused festival because you will not find a more wine-educated crowd, a more passionate crowd and a better crowd to have fun. Personally, I think quality trumps quantity."

Friday, November 7, 2008

Freebie - "Riesling Rules"

Check out the Pacific Rim Winemakers website for a unique forty page guide to Riesling, one of the most noble but confusing white grape varietals. This forty page guide offers a history of the grape, and describes its many rises and falls in popularity over the centuries. It's available online and you can request a free hard copy.

There's a concise but thorough guide to reading a German wine label and understanding the various classifications of their Rieslings. Other wine regions with strong reputations for making quality Rieslings are also profiled.

The booklet provides just the right combination of fun trivia, valuable information you can take with you to your favorite wine store, and a little wine nerd science if you are interested topics such as brix and must weight.

Pacific Rim makes some excellent Rieslings too, but fortunately, this guide doesn't hard sell you; it recommends Rieslings from wineries all over the world.

Pinot Days Preview - November 14-15

Now, you know I have to write about this one. Pinot Days, a celebration and tasting of the world's most noble grape (in this blogger's opinion), returns to the Windy City at the Navy Pier on November 15 from 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. Over fifty wineries will send a total of over 150 different Pinots to Chicago.

There's also a Winemakers Dinner taking place the night before at Bin 36 from 6:00 p.m. - 11:00 p.m. This four course dinner will feature two different pinots with each course along with lively conversation with many of the winemakers.

Pinot Days was one of my favorite tastings from last year. One aspect that makes it special is that unlike other tastings, most of the wineries in attendance send representatives, often the winemaker him or her-self! If you're a Pinot nerd like me, this is your chance to ask all of those cryptic questions you have about this grape.

Tickets for the dinner are $130.00 and the Saturday tasting tickets are $50.00. For a ten percent discount, go the the Pinot Days website and use the code

I hope to see you at one of these events next week!

Monday, November 3, 2008

The Economy and Your Wine Budget

Has the recession and the falling Dow Jones average affected your wine budget? I know it has mine. The other night at The Night Thing, I had to replace several dozen price tags on our bottles with new (higher!) prices. Some of the prices haven't changed for months. And , all categories in our store saw increases. Even our "budget" bottles and some of our hidden Spanish and Rhone gems won't be immune.

I know I will be watching my budget more carefully; probably buying much less than before, but trying new varietals and countries and maybe raising the quality of the bottles a little. And taking much smaller sips, so the bottles will last longer!

YPC Event at Lush - November 12

Join Young Professionals of Chicago as it hosts a wine tasting at Lush Wine and Spirits (1257 South Halsted), a boutique, vineyard-focused wine shop. Cliff and Mitch Einhorn (the brothers who own the Twisted Spoke) are behind this well-reviewed location in Little Italy / University Village. We will enjoy an assortment of five different red and white wines, including an extraordinary mix of Cabernets, Syrahs, Merlots and Rieslings. The wine will be complemented by a variety of heavy appetizers. Samples of Katherine Anne truffles will also be available for dessert.

The date is Wednesday, November 12, time is 6:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m.

This event presents a great opportunity to participate in a unique wine tasting experience, while networking with other young professionals. Attendance is limited, so please register at the link above by Monday, November 10th to reserve your spot. Cost is $25.00 for members and $35.00 for non-members.

Full Disclosure Time!: I have been a member of YPC for over six years; it is an excellent networking and career building organization with seven different committees for which you can volunteer. Hope to see you on November 12 and please consider joining YPC!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

I'm Back (Missed You!)

It's been such a busy month for me! First, The Day Thing starting ramping up for a new year of programming, then I moved (only across the parking lot, but still a move!), then I took some classes and attended some cool tastings, and finally last week, came back from a fabulous weekend in wine country. And I haven't blogged about any of it!

I really have missed doing the blog, and definitely will be spending the next few weeks catching up with all the notes I have taken. My target is two new posts per week, minimum.

If you enjoy reading the blog, please send an email to, and be sure to forward the link to your friends. Thank you!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Someone You Should Know - Mark Spivak of Sunshine Wine Concepts

Today's interview is with Mark Spivak, the president of Sunshine Wine Concepts, a restaurant consulting service he founded in 1992.  Based in Florida, Mark advises restaurants on wine selection, trains staff, lectures about food and wine, and currently hosts Uncorked! Radio on WXEL-FM, National Public Radio for the Palm Beaches.  He has developed his wine expertise after over twenty years of restaurant experience holding many different positions; waiter, sommelier, dining room manager, managing partner.

He currently has two web sites, one for Sunshine Wine Concepts, and one for his online magazine Spivak on Wine

Chicago Pinot:  What are the general standards a restaurant should meet to provide excellent wine service?

Mark Spivak:  Standards (and expectations) of wine service vary wildly, depending on the level of restaurant, the formality of the establishment, and---most importantly---the price. Most diners in America may be unaware of the details and requirements of formal wine service, but their expectations tend to escalate as they go up the price scale. I think what’s important is to have someone on the premises (waiter, manager, owner, sommelier etc) who has helped put the wine list together and has tasted most of the current vintage selections.

Chicago Pinot:  What are common mistakes you have seen wine servers and sommeliers make?

Mark Spivak:  Clean glassware is the biggest problem I encounter in virtually every restaurant I visit. Unless the restaurant has a separate dish machine dedicated to stemware, or unless the glasses are hand-polished at the bar, most glasses tend to have mineral deposits, smell like detergent, or be encrusted with food particles. In a situation like this, it hardly matters what type of wine you order. 

The most common mistake in wine service, as in most other areas of human endeavor, is greed. On the staff level, this usually takes the form of over-pouring; many servers seem to believe that the fastest way to get the second bottle is to dump as much wine into the glasses as possible. Speaking as a former sommelier, I think the challenge is to stay focused on the needs of each customer as an individual.

Chicago Pinot:  Do you see these mistakes made at different types of restaurants (i.e. small vs. large, formal vs. more casual, etc?)

Mark Spivak:   As you go up the price scale, it becomes easier for the service staff to wait to hit the lottery. In restaurants with grand wine lists that are located in upscale venues (Las Vegas, New York, Paris) it’s not unusual for someone to spend $1000-2000 on a bottle of wine. It becomes easy to lose interest in everyone else.

Chicago Pinot:  Wine Spectator recently polled its readers about, among other subjects, the ideal size of the wine list. What is your preferred size? Less than 100 bottles, between 100 and 500, more than 500?

Mark Spivak:   The size of the list is less important than how carefully the wines are chosen. The average person who reads the Wine Spectator would probably be impressed with roll calls of the big names, verticals of Chateau Latour or Silver Oak, etc. In fact, a smaller list is much harder to put together; if you only have 50 wines on a list, every selection has to count. If you have 500, you can offer something for everyone.

Chicago Pinot:  How can a server put a nervous or inexperienced guest at ease and him or her make an excellent, intelligent bottle selection?

Mark Spivak:  Servers can put customers at ease about wine exactly as they do about food---by forming a rapport with the table, asking questions, getting to know their likes and dislikes. What type of wine do you like? What do you drink at home? The customer bears some responsibility here as well. If you feel comfortable with a server/sommelier, tell the person what you’re looking for and how much you want to spend. Most of the time, you’ll get the best bottle in the house at that price.

Chicago Pinot:  What are the most important facts a server should remember about each bottle on a restaurant's wine list?

Mark Spivak:   What does this wine taste like? What type of food does it go with? 

Chicago Pinot:  So much about wine is surrounded by grace and tradition. What are some nuances about wine service that distinguish the great restaurants from the good to average ones?

Mark Spivak:  Wine service really isn’t rocket science. The basic principles are simple---be friendly, be informed, give the customer clean glassware, keep the wine at the right level in the glass. We talk about wine and food pairing, but wine actually is food---as much a part of a meal as a starch or a vegetable.

Someone You Should Know - Todd Hess of H2Vino

Let's suppose while visiting your favorite wine shop, it has stocked
out of wine from your favorite producer. If you know the name of that
wine's importer, you can increase the chances that your next purchase
will satisfy you as much as your old standby.

Meet Todd Hess of H2Vino. His company is one of approximately sixty
five serving the Chicago market. "It provides healthy competition",
he explained over drinks at Bin 36.

He started H2Vino with his wife and another couple about two years
ago. "We knew many good wines were under or not represented in our market."

His portfolio numbers about 350 wineries, mostly from France and
Spain. Most are small producers of less than 10,000 cases per year.
You can view his current portfolio at

H2Vino adds wines to its list slowly. "We hear about possible
additions by word of mouth and through recommendations of
importers in other countries. I was surprised when he told me there's
even friendly trading of wines with other local distributors.
Restaurants and wine stores also suggest ideas.

Todd enjoys working the Illinois market. "I would give the state an
A-minus for wine availability and pricing. It's not a state dominated
by major wholesalers. Also, there's no 'Franchise Law' in Illinois;
i.e. a winery can move more freely from one distributor to another."

If you like to take careful notes about your wines, always check the
back of your bottles for the phrase "Imported by __________." Those
names can suggest new wines for you to explore!

New Links to Click

When I am between blog posts, please check out some of the new links on the right side of the blog. I have placed them into several categories, including favorite wine blogs and stores here in Chicago, along with some excellent audio and video resources. The blogs I will probably rotate in and out because I am discovering new ones all the time. If you subscribe to any of the blog feeds, please tell them that Chicago Pinot recommended it!

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Air Raid!

There were planes overhead just a second ago. Really!

It's time for a marathon night of blogging! Since I don't have to book a last minute flight to Springfield, Illinois this weekend, (I thought I was at least on his short list!), tonight is a good time to reminisce about some of my favorite wine events of the past few weeks.

The fiftieth annual Chicago Air and Water Show (also referred by me as the Air Raid) took place on August 15-17. I was invited to a morning party on LaSalle Avenue, with a perfect view of the pretty boats and the big, scary planes that danced all over the sky.

Similar to the fire power in the air, each guest brought some Smokin!' California wine. Almost everyone had some cute story to share about their contribution. I brought a 2002 Merlot from Mansfield Winery, purchased last year while visiting San Francisco. Unfortunately, I suspect this one needed more decanting, and I couldn't stay past 1:00 p.m. due to my shift at The Night Thing. If you attended this party and had a taste, I would love to get your feedback!

Some of the other wines we featured are in the pictures above. One I will definitely remember was the 2001 Consetino Vintage Petite Syrah. This wine had a thick, almost maple syrup quality; it would fit perfectly with pancakes or Mom's French Toast!

In case you can't decipher the labels above, one guest provided a list of what we all brought:

2004 Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs
NV Domaine Carneros Cuvee de la Pompador (Brut Rose)
2002 Mansfield Merlot Napa
2004 Mathis Grenache Sonoma
2006 Shane Syrah The Unknown Sonoma
2005 Joseph Filippi Cinq Vinobles Rancho Cucamonga
2005 Tensley Syrah Tierra Alta Vineyard Santa Barbara
2005 Duckhorn Merlot Napa
2005 Rosenblum Rock Pile Zinfandel
2005 Ridge Lytton Springs Zin blend Dry Creek Valley
1999 Foppiano Petite Sirah Sonoma
2001 Cosentino Petitie Sirah Lodi
2004 Worthy Sophia's Choice Napa Cab Merlot blend
2004 Vino Noceto Sangiovese Shenandoah Valley Amador County

Hopefully our little group can get together again, maybe around Christmas season. If you have any pictures of the planes or boats from the show, please email them to and I will add them to this post. Thanks!

E-Book Review - How to Taste Like a Wine Geek

You should order 1 Wine's e-book and start reading his blog (after you finish reading mine, of

Joe Roberts, writer of the wine blog 1 Wine Dude, has written a useful, fun companion to his blog; an e-book called "How to Taste Like a Wine Geek". It's a fast read (about forty-two pages printed out) with succinct information about how to taste wine, what to look for, and how to really determine which wines suit your palate best.

Joe starts the book by telling us a little about his journey from wine ignorance to wine expertise (hint, a couple of girlfriends play a role), and realizing that with a little patience and an open mind, one can begin to unravel the mysteries of this centuries-old beverage.

He reminds us to think about everything we taste, every day; this will give us the skills to better describe the wines we try. If you are beginning to make wine a more active part of your meals, focus on which wines you hate and love, leaving aside the ones in the middle for now. The wines which leave the strongest impression in both directions are the best starting points for further exploration. It's also easier to put descriptors on wines that hit you with that strong a feeling, positively or negatively.

Joe also discusses the aromas in wine; and the importance of swirling and sniffing in order to discover these hidden treasures. He walks us through a sample tasting; this process is one I need to practice more consistently.

He doesn't seem to be too concerned with assigning a number to a wine; just knowing if you love, like or hate it, along with some sense of why, will start you on a journey that will enhance your dining experiences and probably your social life too!

Using his scale, I can confidently state "I Love It!" when reviewing 1 Wine Dude's e-book. You can download it from his web site for $7.95.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Interview with Deborah Brenner - author of Women of the Vine

Chicago Pinot meets three Women of the Vine, from left to right: Kristin Belair of Honig Vineyard and Winery, author Deborah Brenner and Marian Jansen op de Haar of Fleming's Steakhouse and Wine Bar

A casual lunch with winemaker Karen Cakebread changed Deborah Brenner’s life. Deborah had left a secure technology job after sixteen years in an attempt to connect more with nature and community. Karen and Deborah dished for several hours about the obstacles they faced in their respective careers. In 2005, Deborah formed a wine negotiant company, negotiating deals with some of this country’s great female winemakers. She wrote Women of the Vine: Inside the World of Women Who Make, Taste, and Enjoy Wine as a tribute to the pioneers you don’t always read about in wine magazines or on the back of your favorite bottle.

While in town for a book signing, Ms. Brenner sat down with me to discuss her book and her wine portfolio, which has just entered the Chicago market.

Chicago Pinot: Tell me about some of the pioneers you profile in the book, and why wine lovers should know more about them.

Deborah: I profiled twenty women in the book. Some of the pioneers in the industry really paved the way for women today being able to break the glass ceiling and break through the gender stereotypes. Merry Edwards was instrumental at changing policy at UC Davis and Dr. Ann Noble, creator of the Wine Aroma Wheel, was the first woman on the faculty in the enology department at UC Davis. Also, Heidi Barrett is the only person, male or female, to receive five 100 point perfect scores from Robert Parker!

Chicago Pinot: What are some of the barriers that needed to be broken down in the wine community?

Deborah: Two big stereotypes tend to be mostly about the physical demands of a wine producer. Also, there is the expectation, that once a woman becomes pregnant, she can no longer taste wine in the same manner or handle the day to day activities and strenuous work.

Chicago Pinot: Do those concerns exist in the old world as well?

Deborah: Yes, and also, another challenge is that European women often enter the wine trade through an inheritance of the winery from family which means taking on extra executive responsibilities they may not initially be prepared for.

Chicago Pinot:
Is there, and should there be, such a thing as marketing “to women?”

Deborah: Wine will appeal to different people for different reasons; we shouldn't try to "genderize" the wine. It has turned off customers when we try to turn "women's wine" into a category.

Chicago Pinot:
Is it true that women are better tasters than men? Does that help them out when making wine?

Deborah: It's not so much that taste better, but women generally have more taste buds then men, meaning they can detect sweet and sour flavors more than most men can.

Chicago Pinot: Please introduce me to your company,
Women of the Vine Cellars.

Deborah: While writing the book, I formed Women of the Vine Cellars. It is the first wine company to unite award winning women winemakers under one brand. I like to say it is the first "Art Gallery" to showcase the wonderful talents of these artists. I currently have six women winemakers making wine for Women of the Vine Cellars. Signe Zoller,Marketta Fourmeaux, Carol Shelton, Dorothy Schuler, Heidi Barrett and Alison Crowe. They are from Napa, Sonoma and Paso Robles. My goal is to continue introducing great women of wine to the consumer. It is a celebration to women's great accomplishments. I hope Women of the Vine will encourage and empower young women to pursue their passions and dreams.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Interview with Marian Jansen op de Haar

Ms. Jansen op de Haar is the Director of Wine for Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar. Fleming’s has sites in almost thirty (twenty eight) states, and opened up its first Chicago location this April. Fleming’s unique selling point is definitely its wine program; each restaurant features one hundred wines available by the glass. It’s rare to find a restaurant that emphasizes its by-the-glass program to this extent.

Ms. Jansen op de Haar graciously agreed to an interview with me, in which we discussed the challenges of assembling a great wine list, and keeping the bottles consistently fresh throughout the year:

Chicago Pinot: When and how did the idea for Fleming’s 100 come about?

Marian: It started about ten years ago when founder Paul Fleming wanted to create a more wine friendly and female friendly atmosphere for a steakhouse. We wanted to create the idea of having a different wine with each choice. We wanted guests to have many more choices than just house white and red. Also, we wanted to encourage guests to have a different glass of wine with each choice. Another part of that philosophy was to not penalize guests for ordering by the glass. So our by the ounce price is the same per ounce no matter what the pour size (we also have two ounce tastes and flights of three tastes).

Chicago Pinot: How do you ensure that wines poured at Fleming’s remain fresh?

Marian: We keep all of our bottles behind the bar (one of each selection) and they are temperature controlled (sixty degrees Fahrenheit for reds, forty five for whites). Every night we sparge (or spray) the open bottles with inert gas, which pushes out the oxygen.

Chicago Pinot: How often do you update the list, and what qualities should a wine have for potential addition to the list?

Marian: We change the national selections on our lists every year, and each year, about two-thirds of the wines are new. We are looking for wines that taste like “more money” than their price. Fleming’s balances the list across taste profiles, origin, and price point.

Chicago Pinot: I notice that each individual restaurant’s wine manager has free reign to choose thirty wines. Is there a great deal of variation from restaurant to restaurant on what wines get selected?

Marian: States with strong local wines, such as Arizona, Texas and Virginia, may have some of those wines added to their Fleming’s list. These wines can rotate several times over the course of a year, and we look at those thirty choices as a testing ground for the main national list.

Chicago Pinot: Looking back on ten years of compiling the list, what changes have you observed in the U.S. wine consumer market?

Marian: Americans are much more adventurous now and willing to try wines from different areas and different grapes, so the current list reflects that change.

Chicago Pinot: How available at retail are most of the wines in the cities in which Fleming’s has a presence?

Marian: I do get some exclusives, wineries do like to make special wines available to certain restaurants. But the majority of every list should be available in your market. And if a wine is not an exclusive, and a distributor can obtain it for our restaurant, you should be able to find it in a wine store.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

It's time for Pinot Class (Hey! Those wines aren't red!)

This grape (above)
produces the wines
displayed below.

Carrie (right) models tonight's wine selection.

It's time for Pinot Class!

Just Grapes has presented an educational Monday night series this summer, featuring six different varieties. I received an invitation to their fifth class on July 14, about the Pinot Grigio grape. Now, this isn't my favorite grape starting with Pinot (guess which is!), but I took this invite as a opportunity to give a variety I have previously dismissed a second chance.

Just Grapes owner Dan Sritong began offering a brief introduction of Pinot Grigio; it originated in Italy, and yes, it is a mutation of the Pinot Noir grape. Traditionally, the grape produces a light-bodied wine with citris-type acidity. Mr. Sritong recommends pairing Pinot Grigio/Gris with sushi, salmon, and Thai and Indian dishes.

Part of the reason Pinot Grigio isn't considered the most sophisticated of varietal grapes can be traced to the massive success twenty five years ago of Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio, a pleasant but mostly forgettable wine. Tasting wines like this will make you think that all Pinot Grigios are nothing but "alcoholic water", in Sritong's words.

Fortunately, Mr. Sritong provided seven solid examples of what this grape can produce. Two came from Italy, the rest came from France, California, and Oregon. Oregon, especially, is a state to watch for Pinot Grigio. The 2007 Ponzi and the 2006 Willakenzie both come from the Willamette Valley in Oregon and featured more body and crisp acidity than the other featured wines. (In Oregon, and Alsace, France, the grape is usually known as Pinot Gris, and these wines often have more tropical aromas and exotic spices than the Italian examples).

There's still one more class in this series; on August 11, at 6:00 p.m., Just Grapes will feature the Chardonnay grape. You can register on their website, or call 312-627-9463.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Napa Valley Dinner - July 21

Sometimes less is more, especially for the serious wine taster. You've probably attended those “mega-tastings”, often held in an arena or open field. There might be several hundred wines on display for you to enjoy!

Yes, those events are fun and a little decadent, but for an evening that’s more memorable and educational, I would prefer just to focus on seven or eight wines, especially over an evening of great food and conversation with the winemakers themselves.

Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse and Wine Bar
invited me to meet for of Napa’s true star winemakers and each took a turn describing some of the special bottles they brought, and some of their philosophies about their craft.

The special guests on July 21 included Cathy Corison from Corison Winery, Kristin Belair, of Honig Vineyard and Winery, Tony Coltrin of Oberon Wines and John Terlato from Bannockburg, Illinois based Terlato Wine Group.

This post could turn into a list of what was tasted and assorted tasting notes. I am trying to get into the habit of taking more detailed notes, but honestly, most attendees focused on the captivating stories the winemakers made.

We began the evening with a private tasting with the four guests. Mr. Terlato shared some touching stories about growing up in Chicago, where his grandparents owned a bottler. He discussed his purchase of Rutherford Hill Winery in 1996, along with working day to day with his brother Bill.

Ms. Corison placed us right in her vineyard as she described her Kronos Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, produced from thirty five year old wines (very rare for Cabernet), yielding only 1.5 tons per acre. I understood her description of what it means to farm organically much more than anything I have read in a wine book or magazine.

Mr. Coltrin spoke about Folio Wine Partners, founded by Michael Mondavi in 2004 and his thirty year career working with the Mondavi family. He shared nothing but praise for patriarch Robert, who passed away in May.

And Ms. Belair shared the challenges of both running a winery and raising a teenage daughter. Her focused, down to earth personality definitely extends to her wines, especially her Sauvignon Blanc. She pays a great deal of attention to a wine's texture, which is something that I can really feel when I am tasting an exceptional bottle. I enjoyed talking music with her (she's a big Coldplay fan) and learning about the difficulties some women still have getting recognition in the wine industry.

Special thanks to Fleming's Prime Steakhouse and Wine Bar for putting together such an impressive panel and dinner. Please look for an interview with their Director of Wine, Marian Jansen op de Haar, later this week.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Gary Vay-ner-chuk coming to Chicago

Come meet Grand Cru Wine Retailer and video blog pioneer Gary Vay-ner-chuk as he discusses the fall of the dollar, the pros and cons of a Obama/Clinton ticket and the New York Jets' endless search for a running game at a special book signing on July 30 at 7:00 p.m. at Threadless (3011 North Broadway).

Gary, of course, will not sign just any book (actually, he probably would), but one book he would prefer to sign is his new one called

Gary Vaynerchuk's 101 Wines: Guaranteed to Inspire, Delight, and Bring Thunder to Your World

Gary is one of several inspirations for me to start this wine blog. I have been watching his web broadcast Wine Library TV almost from Episode One over two years ago. I'm sure he will have great advice to share about enjoying wine, learning how to appreciate unusual varietals and how to change the wine world (I am certainly doing my part!)

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Betrayal Comes to Hyde Park

What does the wine on the left have to do with the author of the book on the right?

You can ask Velvet next Friday at Borders in Hyde Park!

Local author Velvet is a frequent customer at The Night Thing. When she saw the Cava called 1 + 1 + 3 she exclaimed, "That's the title of my book!" She immediately purchased a bottle for inspiration.

That book hasn't been released yet, but Velvet will do a book signing of her current book Betrayal on Friday July 25 at 6:30 p.m. at the Borders in Hyde Park (1539 East 53rd Street). Since Borders is near The Night Thing, I'll try to stop by after my shift!

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Someone You Should Know - Gloria Petersen of Global Protocol, Inc.

You might want to sit up straight before reading this post. And if you're enjoying a glass of wine right now, make sure you are holding it correctly!

Gloria Petersen, etiquette consultant and founder of Global Protocol, Inc. wants all of you to know that one of the major mistakes she sees diners frequently make is holding a glass by the bulb and not the stem. Holding a glass by the stem not only demonstrates your refinement, but it's also better for the wine, preventing it from becoming too warm from the heat of your palm.

Ms. Petersen has advised executives (and would-be executives) for companies both large and small. She has presented seminars for Caterpillar interns, Motorola diversity groups, and Microsoft account executives, to name a few. Her articles have appeared in Chicago Restaurant magazine, among other publications.

She began our interview by sharing some of the faux pas she has witnessed by some of her clients. Putting ice cubes in wine is one error she's seen frequently. Another mistake can take place during a multi-course dinner where the wines are pre-selected for each course. According to Ms. Petersen, "Don't sip a wine with a course that it's not paired with!" If you are not finished with a wine by the time the next course arrives, Ms. Petersen insists you should allow the wine to be removed with the finished course. One mistake I learned I make frequently is not really tasting the wine. There's clearly a difference between drinking and tasting! "If you just drink it, the wine is swallowed right away and you miss the benefits of the wine. The wine should briefly resonate on the tongue before swallowing, to capture its benefits."

Ms. Petersen advised me to focus on four parts of my tongue:

Sweetness: (found on the tip of the tongue)
Fruitiness: (middle of the tongue)
Acidity: (sides of the tongue and cheek area)
Tannin: (middle to back of the tongue and throat)

According to Ms. Petersen, each wine will respond most strongly to one part of your tongue and you will appreciate wine much more if you can identify that place with each wine you taste.

When you are ordering wine for a large group at dinner, Ms. Petersen advises you look for what she calls a "crossover wine"; i.e. wines that will fit most dishes and most palates, (e.g. blush wines and Pinot Noir). Her preferred combo is a Pinot Noir and a Pinot Grigio. However, other popular choices are a Syrah or Merlot and a Chardonnay. Ideally, order one bottle of red and one of white; "people like choices."

If you are undecided what to select, in a restaurant, at least inquire about the restaurant house wine; this is usually a choice that will appeal to a large cross section of palates. Another idea is to ask if the restaurant has a signature entree, and what wine might pair effectively with that.

According to Ms. Petersen, "Restaurants want you to think of them as beyond simply serving you." She offered some excellent advice on how to work effectively with your wine director/sommelier. If possible, contact the restaurant ahead of time, share your budget with their host, and take a look at their wine list (many wine lists are posted online now). Ask questions about some of the wines your are considering. If you are pre-selecting a wine for your group, familiarize yourself with the vintage so that you can give your guests some information about the wine you selected. "Guests love to be educated about wine."

After you have ordered a bottle, there's an important ritual that is common in most upscale restaurants. It's important to understand what is happening when the wine is first presented to your table, and why. Ms. Petersen explains, "The wine will be presented and you need to confirm that this is the exact wine and vintage you ordered. You should feel the cork, but not smell it; a cork from a quality bottle should feel a little moist on the bottom after it has been pulled. Ask for a taste of the wine, just to ensure it does not have a vinegar flavor." Be very discreet when doing this; don't try to show off." She's seen too many examples of diners who don't know nearly about wine and protocol as they think and send a perfectly good wine back because he or she did not particularly like it.

"Ideally, wine at the table is about building rapport and camaraderie", says Ms. Petersen, and I will remember her pointers whenever I am entertaining guests in the future.

Please check out Ms. Petersen's two web sites, and (Special thanks to another etiquette expert, Jacqueline Whitmore, who placed me in touch with Ms. Petersen. Please click on her website at for more great tips.)

Heard it Through the Grapevine - July, 2008

Come meet author Deborah Brenner (right) at her book signing July 22.

Chicago Pinot is happy to showcase upcoming wine events you might enjoy (you may even meet your favorite new blogger at one of them!)

Fleming's Prime Steakhouse and Wine Bar has locations in twenty four states, and opened it's first restaurant in Chicago last April. They feature a rotating collection of one hundred wines available by the glass.

On July 21 and 22, they will be hosting two special wine events; and at least one of them will match your budget!

On Monday, July 21 at 6:00 p.m., Fleming's will host an evening of wine tasting and dining with some of Napa Valley's most prestigious winemakers. This three hour event will consist of a reception, a panel discussion with the winemakers and a dinner.

The featured winemakers will be:

Cathy Corison of Corison Winery
Kristin Belair of Honig Vineyard and Winery
Tony Coltrin of Folio Fine Wine
Scott McLeod of Rubicon Estate
Dave Guffy of The Hess Collection Winery

Hosting this event will be Marian Jansen op de Haar, National Director of Wine for Fleming's.

The cost for this event is $95.00.

Even if you're a wine newbie like myself, you probably know that women have centuries of experience working with the noble grape. But can you name any famous current female wine superstars?

Deborah Brenner certainly could; she is the author of Women of the Wine, and Ms. Brenner will sign copies of her book at Fleming's on Tuesday, July 22 at 6:00 p.m. She will bring along several excellent women winemakers who will share their favorite selections from their portfolios.

This event is free and here's a message for you men; this event is not for women only!

Fleming's Prime Steakhouse and Wine Bar is located at 25 East Ohio and you can R.S.V.P for these events by calling 312-329-9463.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

The 10.25% Solution

Are these wines (see right) worth 1% more than yesterday?

A group of us at The Day Thing have a booth at Taste of Chicago (come on Wednesday, July 2, to the Family Tent if you want to meet CP and his friends!) Since our shift ends about 3:30, I checked out a couple of my favorite Loop wine shops on my way home.

Special shoutouts to Amy; don't want to get her into trouble, but she blissfully forgot to charge me the new and improved 10.25% city sales tax on the lovely bottle of Alamos 2007 Torrontes bought at her shop even after I reminded her about the higher rate in effect today.

Unfortuantely, the Sam's Wine & Spirits computers kicked in right away with the new rate, but they were honoring a 10% off coupon that expired the day before. I guess that makes the math easy, right? $14.99 list price for this lovely Sauvignon Blanc from Marborough, $15.oo on the nose with tax (and after applying the coupon).

Note to wine store owners, if you want to just print up a bunch of 10% off coupons and leave them at the front desk of your store, I might be a little more understanding about our fair city's alleged fiscal needs!

Have you ever crossed city (or state) lines to save a few dollars on sales tax? Please comment below!

And finally, here's a picture of Todd Stroger. If you want to understand how Chicago became the highest taxed municipality, read this article.

Here's a picture of Mr. 10.25%.

I would post a picture and link to Amy, but I'm hoping it takes a few more months before she adjusts her computer!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Wine Review - Colonia Las Liebres 2006 Bonarda

This is an old favorite I discovered last summer at a wine tasting in Oak Park at a restaurant that alas, has passed from the foodie scene in Chicagoland. I remembered describing it to friends as a "perfect 7:00 a.m. wine."

Now, I certainly don't recommend enjoying this wine (or any wine) that early in the morning if you're a nine-to-five type, like me. But when you get home, this is great to enjoy on a weeknight, with simple but satisfying cherry and cranberrry flavors. Higher than average acid, much lower than usual tannins.

The history of the Bonarda grape, and how it arrived in Argentina, is more than a little confusing. This article does an excellent job at sorting most of it out.

There is definitely a place for wines you can just gulp and not think too much about, and this red from the Mendoza region of Argentina, can serve you well when you aren't preparing any food that's too challenging (frankly, the Parmigiano I am pairing this with is really overpowering the wine's simple but charming pleasures).

Purchased at Treasure Island ( for $8.71 (with tax).

Rating: 86 out of 100

Monday, May 26, 2008

Someone You Should Know - Molly Wismeier of Cenitare

One of my purposes with this blog is to profile individuals in the Chicagoland area who help make our wine encounters more enjoyable. While on a business trip in the Chicago suburbs recently, Molly Wismeier of the Cenitare Restaurant Group met me for an interview at the Westin Chicago North Shore. Ms. Wismeier was appointed Corporate Director of Wine and Spirits for Cenitare Restaurants in December, 2007. At the Westin, her restaurant responsibilities include Osteria di Tramonto and Tramonto’s Steak & Seafood.

I wanted to learn a little about her responsibilities as a wine director and how her team of servers and sommeliers combine to enhance your dining experience. But our interview began on a bittersweet note; her publicist emailed both of us earlier in the day that legendary winemaker Robert Mondavi had passed away that morning. She had never met Mr. Mondavi, but she began our interview with a reflection on how he influenced her career, and many others:

"Going back thirty years, he helped me understand the position the U.S. has in the world of wine. He recognized the importance of place of origin; what wine will grow best in what places. He would take trips to France to see how how grapes were planted, what regions worked best for which grapes, how the soil was treated."

There have been many online tributes to Mr. Mondavi; here are a couple of my favorites.,1197,3817,00.html

Ms. Wismeier was originally an opera major, eventually receiving a degree in Russian studies. She believes all the experiences she has had, not just the food and wine related ones, help make her better informed about wine.

"Food and wine together were always a central part of my growing up. My grandmother brewed her own beer and I was always exposed to fresh local products, beer, bread, watercrests. As you expose yourself to these different experiences, your palate becomes stronger."

After working as Julian Schnabel's personal assistant (he directed last 2007's The Diving Bell and the Butterfly), she worked her way up through several restaurants in Denver and at the University of Iowa). It was at this point, she discovered her affinity for wines.

She stressed to me that a sommelier or wine director can't just understand wine, "You need to know about culture, history, language and the art of wine. And you have to keep studying!"

Her responsibilities now include overseeing the wine cellar of three restaurants, training all wait staff and sommeliers, purchasing of all wine and liquor and planning food/wine events.

"I want to give guests (she resisted the use of the word "customer") the best tasting at the best price. I also consider the cuisine of the restaurant, the season and of course, the taste profile and quality."

Her staff is always interested in learning from guests "what's the buzz", so please don't be shy about sharing your likes/dislikes with them. "Every bottle you open teaches you something about the next bottle", according to Ms. Wismeier. "Don't be shy, just relax and express what you really like. The sommelier is translator, who will guide you to what is on our list."

ChicagoPinot looks forward to future wine adventures at Ms. Wismeier's restaurants (they are currently working on several projects in Schaumburg and Rosemont).

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

What do you break out for your friends?

This weekend, my company is attending a conference at the Westin in Wheeling, Illinois. It's always fun to get away from the office for a few days! A few years ago, I brought along some of my wines to share with my coworkers at our "team building" event and I would like to think that my selections helped bond our teams as much as the seminar content did.

So what will I bring this time? Admittedly, I don't have the budget for really high end vino. And, to put it nicely, I am not sure I want to share my most prized possessions with this crowd! What I will probably do is share some wines that are just a little out of the average person's comfort zone, but are still available and somewhat affordable.

Hopefully, the suburbs of Chicago have their share of BYOBs with minimal corkage. And if we find a couple of them, you may see CP and his friends sharing a few bottles of:

F. Bachelier 2005 Chablis
Shaw and Smith 2004 Sauvignon Blanc (Adelaide Hills)
Terrazas de los Andes 2006 Malbec (Mendoza)
Marquis Phillips 2004 "Roogle Red" 80% Shiraz, 20% Cabernet Sauvignion
(South Eastern Austrailia)

Have you tasted any of these in the past? Please share your notes with all your friends here on the blog!