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.