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!