Friday, August 14, 2009

Bottlenotes Tasting at MCA

My favorite tasting event this summer took place June 26 at the Museum of Contemporary Art. The event called "Around the World in 80 Sips" was sponsored by Bottlenotes, an online wine store/community whose president, Alyssa Rapp I profiled last November for this blog.

Leaving aside the wine selection for a moment, I can compliment Bottlenotes and the event organizers for providing an excellent setting and atmosphere. The MCA provided plenty of space to move around, and seating in one of the back galleries where one could relax with some of the various breads and cheeses provided.

Bottlenotes also provided a booklet with details about many of the wineries featured. Many wines were poured by the actual winemakers or other staff, and they were pleased to answer all my questions (even the dumb ones; I am sure I asked some of those too!)

I took the opportunity to expand my palate by trying wines from countries such as Greece and Thailand, which are not always easily available. My favorite wine of the evening was a Pinot Noir (lucky guess!) from the Santa Lucia Highlands called Notoriety. Normally I am partial to the Burgundian (rocks, mushrooms, earch, etc.) style of Pinot over the more opulent California ones, but this had a little mixture of both, subtle cherry and blackberry fruit, and plenty of that sandy, stony French texture.

Hopefully, Bottlenotes will return to the MCA for another worldwide tasting next year!

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

BOKA Blind Tasting - Can you Name That Wine?

Can you name that wine?

A popular parlor game among wine nerds is "blind tasting"; the identifying of a wine simply by observing and tasting it. And by "identifying", I mean not only the grape variety, but also the country and vintage of the wine.

As a sommelier in training (assuming I survived my first WSET test on August 2), I figured I should start practicing this, and Boka Restaurant on 1729 North Halsted is helping my untrained taste buds by hosting a free "Taste Your Palate" contest the first Tuesday of each month. The most accurate taster each month receives a $100 gift certificate to Boka; all players receive $10 off a $25 or more check if used the night of the contest.

Just before the August 4 tasting, I spoke with Matt Schneider, General Manager and Wine Director of Boka, to explain the game to me, and hopefully pick up some pointers.

There are four wines featured each month, and each player needs to identify the grape each wine is made from, and whether it comes from an Old World or New World country. Old World refers to countries such as France, Germany and Italy, i.e., they have made wine for hundreds, of years. Schneider identified some Old World wine characteristics which could include a rustic,
"barnyard" aroma, and more of a mineral feel on the palate. Wine made in New World countries (such as Austrailia and the United States) generally play up the fruit and structure.

Schneider advises wine consumers to take notes, take the opportunity to try new wines, and if a wine particularly impresses you, to research it online.

Join the Chicago Crushpad Team!

The grapes for our wine will come from this vineyard, called Two Pisces!

If you ever wanted to create a wine from scratch, without the expenses of land and labor, then you need to seek out Crushpad. Located in San Francisco, this is a "custom crush" facility in which makes wine for clients all over the country. You can delegate the winemaking as an individual or part of a team, and the Crushpad staff will customize your order based on your requests.

A Chicago team is currently forming, and I had the pleasure of interviewing via email, the team's coordinator, Carol Ludwick.

How did you first come aware of Crushpad?

I read about the company several years ago and was intrigued from the start, but I joined a winemaking group for the first time last year when my husbandand I made Pinot Noir with a group out in San Francisco.

Take me through the process of how the Chicago team will make our wine.

We've been assigned an awesome winemaker, Chris Nelson, who is a master with Pinot Noir. (He did ours last year as well.) He'll be leading us through the process from grape to glass. We'll start with a kick off party on September 9 at Taste Food and Wine where we'll taste barrel samples from a 2008 vintage produced from the same vineyard, Two Pisces (Sonoma), as our wine this year. He'll be sending either a video or notes for me to present and we'll learn how Pinot Noir is made, what makes it different/more finicky than other wines, etc.

As the grapes mature, we'll be sent samples from our vineyard so we can taste them, and we'll be able to attend a virtual Crush Camp where members of the team can watch the sorting process live and ask questions. Members will have access to the abundant information on the Crushnet sitewhere they'll find what's called Winemaker's Minutes, segments that explain each step of the winemaking process. We will all become familiar with terms like de-stemming, cold soak, punch downs, brix and more.

We'll be having a label design contest with the winner receiving 6 bottlesof our wine! This is a great opportunity for local artists to enjoy a bounty of premium wine while earning recognition for their work.

The group will receive on-line updates about the progress of the wine as it makes its way from vineyard to bottle.

We'll be able to watch the bottling live via Crush Cams.

All group members will receive a tee shirt with the Community Crush Chicago design. We'll celebrate next year with a big release party when our wine arrives.

What variety of grape will you work with, and have you tastedother wines made from that region/grape?

Crushpad has allocated a barrel of Pinot Noir from the Two Pisces Vineyard in Sonoma. This 10-acre biodynamically farmed vineyard sits on the southwestern edge of Petaluma. In this section of Sonoma, very chilly ocean breezes and fog are funneled through the Petaluma Gap, keeping temperatures up to 15 degrees cooler than the rest of the county. The moderate rainfall totals and cooler weather conditions are idyllic for growing high-quality Pinot Noir. This rolling hillside property features a variety of Dijon clones planted on 101-14 and SO4 rootstocks. I am a big fan of Pinot Noir and have enjoyed many from the Sonoma region.Our group will get to taste barrel samples from that same vineyard at our opening party.

What can participants learn about wine through their involvementwith a Crushpad team?

The beauty of it is, as much as they want to! I'm a wine geek, so I read every one of the Winemaker's Minutes so I could become familiar with the more technical side, but participants can dip in to the website and read blogs, connect with other wine lovers and learn as much as their interest allows.

What is the cost to participate on your team? How can one register?

There is no cost to join the group, but we ask that participants agree to purchase at least one bottle of the wine, which is $26. You can register at Crushnet via this link:

When you are done bottling your project, do you think you will drink your share right away, or will you cellar some of your bottles?

I've signed up for a 1/2 a case, so I will for sure be cellaring some of them to enjoy down the road.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Pours for Justice

If you are a wine lover, a supporter of free and fair trade and/or a
self-described “good government” advocate, Chicago Pinot invites you
to attend Chicago’s most unique wine event of 2009.

Come join me on August 6 from 5:00 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. at the Chicago
Cultural Center
, for "Pours for Justice", a benefit for the Illinois
Wine Consumer Coalition.

The event will include a variety of unique wines available for
sampling, an auction, talks by VIPs on the necessity of changing the
thinking and laws concerning consumer access to wine and information
on how concerned Illinoisans can become involved in changing the law
in Illinois to assure consumers have real access to wine in Illinois.

HB-429 was signed by then Governor Blagojevich one year ago, ending the
privilege Illinois wine consumers embraced for over a decade, allowing
them to purchase wine from out of state retailers.

A 2005 Supreme Court decision should have opened the fifty state
borders for more interstate wine shipping. Some states have
liberalized their shipping rules, but others, like Illinois, have used
this decision to make certain wine shipments more difficult or even

Come learn more about the cause, and learn how to regain access to
your favorite specialty wines!

Tickets are $100.00 and are available at or call (707) 935-4424.

For more information on the Specialty Wine Retailers Association, please visit

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Poetry Night at The Book Cellar

Here’s a heads-up to a cool bookstore and wine bar in Lincoln Square (4736-38 North Lncoln Avenue). The Book Cellar has cool wine and sandwiches, and an eclectic book collection. They also frequently feature local authors reading from their work.

This is short notice, but this Thursday, April 9 at 7:00 p.m. is Poetry Night, featuring Jenene Ravesloot, Barry Siegel, Laura Van Prooyen and Jacquee Thomas. I saw Jacquee at a tasting last night, after losing touch with her for several months. She has a sparkling wit and intelligence which definitely comes through in her writing and on her web site.

Unfortunately, I have to work at The Night Thing this Thursday, but I invite you to catch Jacquee and the other poets, and have a glass of wine on me!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Guest Blogger Megan Presnall on Illinois Wine

Let's welcome Megan Presnall, Director, External Relations for the Illinois Grape Growers and Vintners Association! If you're like me, you probably don't think about or drink American wines other than California, Washington, Oregon, and maybe New York. But every state in the U.S. now has a legally recognized winery, so take some time to learn about and taste what our home state has to offer. Here's Megan!

The Illinois wine industry has exploded in recent years, growing from just 12 wineries in 1997 to more than 72 today. During this time, the acreage devoted to grape production has grown at a tremendous rate, and today Illinois is consistently among the top 12 wine-producing states. But while the industry’s recent growth has been phenomenal, Illinois also enjoys a rich winemaking tradition that dates back to the 1700s when French settlers in La Ville de Maillet (what is now Peoria) began bringing the winemaking expertise of their homeland to Illinois. The village now features a wine press and an underground wine vault.

Today the Illinois wine industry creates a direct economic impact of more than $253 million annually. The Illinois Grape Growers and Vintners Association predict continued growth in the coming years as more visitors discover the genuine culture of Illinois Wine Country. Locally crafted wines are growing in popularity at both the state and national level. IGGVA is tapping into this passion by pairing wines with the homegrown sights and sounds of Illinois. The focus in the upcoming season is to invite a new social viewpoint into these efforts.

Illinois Wines have won acclaim in state, national and international competitions. From friendly vintners and affordable prices to unique varietals and award-winning wines, the more than 72 wineries and 450 vineyards across Illinois offer an enjoyable, close-to-home getaway. Whether you’re looking for a romantic getaway or a let-down-your-hair road trip with the girls, a genuine Illinois Wine experience is never more than a few hours away. The experiences to visitors at individual sites and along the Illinois Wine trails offered are diverse; ranging from the quaint bed and breakfast vineyard in the rolling hills of Southern Illinois to larger wineries offering classes, tours, tastings and even on-site chefs.

Illinois winemakers use different grape varieties to produce a diversity of high-quality wines. The top six grape varietals grown in the state cover more than 75 percent of the state’s total grape acreage. Five of these grapes—Chambourcin, Seyval, Vignoles, Chardonel and Vidal Blanc—are “French Hybrids,” developed by crossing French grapes, such as the Chardonnay often grown in France and California, with native American vines. This cross-pollination results in grapes that produce excellent wine, but that are less susceptible to the effects of extreme cold—making them ideal for the Midwest’s unpredictable weather. The other grape in the top six, Norton, originates from native American vines.

The Illinois Grape Growers and Vintners Association (IGGVA) is a non-profit organization dedicated to developing the viticulture and enology interests of Illinois through information exchange and cooperation among Illinois grape producers and vintners. For more information on Illinois Wine, please visit If you are on Twitter, you can also keep up-to-date by following

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Wine 101 at Lush Wine and Spirits

Jane on the left and Kristin on your right, hosted Wine 101 at Lush Wine and Spirits in Roscoe Village (cute hat, Kristin!)

Once or twice a year, I like returning to the basics of wine. I enjoy hearing stories about its history or how its made, and how to differentiate varietals; it helps me better educate customers at The Night Thing, along with reinforcing my own wine knowledge.

Lush Wine and Spirits offers unique wine classes throughout the year; their Roscoe Village team of Jane and Kristin gave seven of us a thorough overview of six common varietals along with tips on best experience the whole tasting ritual (sniffing, swirling, sipping and spitting).

Our hostesses were friendly and casual; reminding us that the wine appreciation can seem complex and overbearing but really comes down to a few basics that anyone can master. Their mantra is keep experimenting, learn what your palate likes/dislikes, and try as best you can to put wine's flavors and textures into words you can understand.

My favorite of the white varietals was our Riesling, a 2007 Richter Brauneberger Juffer Kabinett, from Mosel, Germany. That's a long name! But the most important word in that name is Kabinett, the semi-sweet ranking in the German classification. One misconception many wine drinkers have is that all Riesling wines are sweet. Au contraire! (OK, that's French, but I don't know the similar phrase in German!) Some Rieslings are sweet, and some have the pleasant aroma of the unleaded you feed your gas tank (BTW, are all filling stations self-serve now?)

This Riesling had more of the spiky, tart "7-Up" texture I enjoy in Riesling. It really cried out for some Chinese or Thai food.

From the Chardonnay grape, we tasted an unoaked from West Cape Howe of Western Austrailia, and an oaked version (much more common) from South Africa, the 2007 Vins d"Orracne. Unoaked Chardonnays provide a different completely different approach to nurturing this grape, and you really need to treat yourself to both styles. Most wineries, will note on their bottle label if their Chardonnay has not been treated in oak (they will age the juice in stainless steel, instead).

I have a particular preference in Chardonnay; namely, the more rocks the better! I love the feeling of minerality on my palate; neither of the wines came near that taste profile, but I enjoyed exploring these different styles.

From the red wine group, I fell in love with a Merlot costing just $9.50 from the Languedoc (2006 Delas); it featured a unique combination of rasberry with strong tannins. I also enjoyed (sigh) the most expensive wine of the tasting; a Paso Robles from Tablas Creek (the 2005 Esprit de Beaucastel); strongly based on the Mourvedre, Grenache, Syrah combination found often in the Rhone region of France (it also included some Counoise - that's pronounced Coon-wa). This just felt like an electric shock of sensations in my mouth; spice, smoke and a lingering finish.

Please check out the Lush web site for their frequently updated blog and information on their future classes.

Pairing Food and Jazz with Wine

One special by-product of the blog is that it's enabled me to reconnect with friends from my past. One family friend, Jeffrey Siegel, has his own blog, not about wine, but on the subject of jazz. You can read Straight No Chaser here. Jeffrey is much more of an expert on jazz than I am on wine!

He invited me to contribute to his latest blog post, with a Valentine's Day theme. If you experiment with our food/wine/music suggestions, please let both of us know how the combinations worked for you. Thanks!

Be My Valentine (and Bring the Wine!)

With Valentine's Day today, I thought it would be fun to query some Chicago wine experts, the following question:
"What's the most romantic bottle of wine you have ever drank?"

Kyle McHugh of Drinks Over Dearborn:

"On my first visit to Bern’s Steak House in Tampa, Florida, I shared a bottle of 2002 Van Duzer Dijon Blocks Pinot Noir with my girlfriend Kelli. If you’re a fan of great food and wine, Bern’s is like Willy Wonka’s factory – I spent an hour just reading the menu and perusing the encyclopedia-esque wine list. Over this great bottle of Pinot from my homeland (I grew up about 30 minutes north of the Willamette Valley), I asked Kelli to live with me. We are now engaged and getting married in October of ’09. I don’t know if it was me or the wine that sealed the deal, but I’ll let the Van Duzer take a lot of the credit!"

From Rachel Driver, of Lush Wine and Spirits:

2004 SAXUM 'Heart Stone Vineyard', Paso Robles, California. This wine is all out sexy. Although I gravitate toward fairly eclectic, dry, dusty and austere Italian reds by default, I didn't want to think about my wine this particular evening. I wanted something lovely, delicious, and very accessible. Hence, the Saxum. Purchased from Lush in 2007, our very first 3 bottle allocation of Saxum, I drank the 'Heart Stone' by candlelight paired with a homemade, handcrafted Valentine's Day meal. Saxum is the 'estate' project of Justin Smith, meant to showcase the terroir of the James Berry Vineyard and the Templeton Gap...rocky calcareous soils, steep hillsides, and cooling ocean breezes speak through these wines. Yields are kept extremely low, fruit is handpicked at the peak of ripeness, and a minimalist approach is utilized in the cellar. Justin produces beautiful, structured, textured 'big' wines.

Tasting Notes:
This Central Coast blend of Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre pours a deep, plush purple. Immediately, the nose is an intense array of black pepper and black fruit, a touch of toasty vanilla oak, and just a hint of dusty dark chocolate. The palate mirrors the aromas and builds with white pepper, weathered leather, blackberry and silky dark chocolate. This wine definitely tastes of West Side Paso...deep, rich, and full of spicy tannins. Definitely a sensuous, racy number...not shy, but flashy and rather elegant all at once. Yum!

From Anne Markovich-Girard of Robert Kacher Selections:

A bottle of Mas de Guiot Rose, on the deck, with grilled salmon, with my husband on a perfect July evening.

From Brian Wiig of Flow Wine Group:

Definitely when Meg and I enjoyed Ceretto Barolo 1997 with pizza in the moonlight on the Amulfi coast. It was a "life" experience!

From Michael Bottigliero of Eno and Windy City Wine Guy:

The most romantic bottle of wine I have ever drunk? I would normally like to say it was a red, but due to the story behind it, I would have to say Principessa Gavia Gavi. A young Italian Princess named Gavia ran away with a handsome soldier, against the wishes of her father. When news of their romance spread though the countryside, the father forgave them and threw a huge wedding. He gave them the town they were hiding in and named it Gavi along with the wine which the town produced.

Gavi is made from the Cortese varietal in Piedmonte. This particular wine is light and floral, with crisp acidity, lime and baked lemon flavor. It also has a hint of sparkle and white wine spice. A great value under $15 as well.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Burgundy 101 with Martin Sinkoff

The Chablis of Domaine Christian Moreau Pere & Fils were among the Chardonnays featured at Frederick Wildman & Sons recent Chicago tasting (father Christian and son Fabien are pictured here).

Last week, I received an invitation to a special wine tasting here in Chicago. On February 5, New York City based importer Frederick Wildman and Sons, conducted a private tasting of 2007 Burgundy. This was my favorite kind of tasting because it focused on just a couple of varietals (in Burgundy that means Pinot Noir and Chardonnay), and it wasn't too crowded. Often, when an importer or distributor hosts a tasting, you get an opportunity to talk with the actual winemakers. This kind of event really brings out the wine brainiacs; I overheard many conversations about climate and oak and harvest challenges.

While taking in all of the delicious wine and food, I knew I needed a basic primer about this particular region, whose wines are usually priced outside my budget. Martin Sinkoff, Director of Marketing for Frederick Wildman and Sons, emailed me answers to several questions I had about Burgundy and the 2007 vintage.

1.) For those drinkers familiar (maybe overly familiar) with American Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, what style and taste differences will they notice when they first taste Burgundy?

Chardonnay and Pinot Noir as grown and made in Burgundy are to California versions as ready-to-wear clothes are to haute couture. You can wear both but they don't feel the same. The first is serviceable; the second, ethereal. Burgundy in its white and red expressions is at once refined, elegant, powerful, deep in flavor and utterly memorable. It is an experience not just a drink. As young wine lovers grow in their taste, the will come to discover Burgundy just the way young music lovers who grow up on rock music come to appreciate jazz, classical music or opera.

2.) Do you have some suggestions on how to assemble a mixed case of Burgundy that will reflect all the different nuances of the region?

I suggest

1 bottle each of:

Jean Jacques Vincent Pouilly Fuisse "Marie Antoinette" 2007

Potel-Aviron Fleurie 2006 or 2007

Chateau de Chamirey White 2006 or 2007 (Mercurey)

Olivier Leflaive Bourgogne Blanc "Les Setilles" 2007

Olivier Leflaive Puligny Montrachet 2006

Domaine Darviot-Perrin Chassagne Montrachet RED 2006

Domaine Jacques Prieur Meursault "Mazery" 2006

Nicolas Potel Savigny-les-Beaune 2006

Nicolas Potel Volnay "Vieilles Vignes" 2006

Domaine Humbert Bourgogne Rouge 2006

Domaine Damoy Gevrey Chambertin 2006

Domaine Christian Moreau Chablis "Vaillons" 2007

This mixed case will take the wine lover from south to north, from red to white, from Beaujolais to the Cotes de Nuits and on to Chablis and will allow the first experience of Burgundy in its depth and breadth.

3.) At today's tasting, two phrases I heard a great deal were "single vineyard" and "old vines". Can you explain why these terms are important and what they contribute to great Burgundy?

"Single Vineyard" is important because it means that the wine is expressing itself very specifically from one vineyard. Burgundy is all about the expression of place and time and the more specific that is, the more valuable. It is like listening to a single violin rather than the orchestra.

"Old Vines" is important because the older the vines, the greater the expression. Old vines draw their "voice" from a deep root system that can express the full minerality of its vineyard.

4.) What were some of the climate (and other) challenges to growing and harvesting in Burgundy in 2007?

2007 was a "backward" vintage: hot spring and cool summer. Finding optimum ripeness for maximum expression was the challenge in this and in all vintages. Ultimately the wines of 2007 are very precise, very fine, small boned, elegant and delicious. It is a lovely vintage in white and in red.

5.) The winemakers present also discussed which oak (and how long) they used for aging their wines. Some winemakers didn't use oak at all. What are the flavors different types of oak can impart?

Oak is used to age wines and is like adding salt or pepper to a sauce. When done well you can't taste those ingredients but you know the dish is delicious. Different wines take to oak differently. Very unruly tannic wines need oak ageing more than delicate reds or whites. Some wines cannot tolerate oak or new oak at all (such as Chablis). Excessive oak makes wines taste simple; like vanilla ice cream.

6.) When will we start receiving these wines in the Chicago market, and what are some of the stores and restaurants you have supplied in the past?

The 2007 wines will start arriving now and continue to arrive through the year. The Moreau Chablis are already here. All good stores and restaurants in Chicago-land can find these through our distributor, Signature Wine Merchants (Southern Wine and Spirits).

7.) Would you say there is any kind of "sibling rivalry" between Burgundy and the other major wine regions of France?

No. Burgundy shares with the other great wine producing regions of France a secure sense of deep identity and pride in its extraordinary qualities. If there is a rivalry it would be between Burgundy growers and growers of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in the new world who pretend to equal Burgundy in quality or style.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Interview with Jessica Bell of the Midwest Wine School

Your teacher, Jessica Bell, and her husband, among the vineyards of Chateauneuf-du-Pape.

If you're starting to read Chicago Pinot, and other wine blogs, or deciding you want to finally learn how to dissect that wine list, maybe taking a wine class should go on your to-do list. Chicago wine stores often feature one night classes that provide a basic overview. But if you are looking for a more thorough treatment, or researching a career in food and wine service, consider the Midwest Wine School and the classes taught by Jessica Bell.

Jessica began her wine school in Milwaukee, in 2006, and will visit Chicago on Sundays to teach her intermediate and advanced classes. Her curriculum is based on the Wine & Spirit Education Trust, which was created in Great Britain, and is taught in over forty countries and has been translated into thirteen languages.

Jessica is WSET certified, and has passed all the diploma exams. She has also passed challenging examinations sponsored by the American Sommelier Association and the Spanish Union of Winetasters based in Madrid. After leaving the fast-paced world of investment banking in the early 1990's, she worked at a Spanish winery, as a sommelier for The Modern, an acclaimed New York City restaurant, ("many eighteen hour days!") and has contributed wine and lifestyle features for the Milwaukee ABC station WISN.

She described to me the differences between her Intermediate and Advanced classes: "The intermediate class (nine weeks) is more grape oriented, I focus on about ten of the most common grape varietals and their main characteristics. It's designed for students who already have a strong interest in wine, OR those already working in the retail or service industries. This class concludes with a fifty question multiple choice test which is very manageable if you read and study the book and class materials."

The advanced class (sixteen weeks) requires much more self discipline: "It's recommended that you study four hours for every two spent in class. We focus more on individual regions instead of grapes. Also, we spend time focusing on current market trends, because the wine world is always changing. The final exam combines multiple choice, short answers to analytical questions (example: If your restaurant is out of a customer's first choice for a bottle, what would you recommend and why?) and a fifteen minute blind tasting."

Jessica's graduates have come from a variety of industries. "I have seen a number of career switchers; one is a former professor who is now the Online Marketing Manager for Terlato Vineyards. A nurse who took my course is now working for a distributor. Several others have opened wine stores, and I have heard from several servers who express more confidence in handling difficult customers."

The Midwest Wine School begins February 8 at the Cooking and Hospitality Institute at 361 West Chestnut. Please email Jessica at or call 414-326-7736 for more information.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Illinois Wine Consumers Unite!

If you love wine and are committed to the principle of free trade, you should join this group!

“The Illinois Wine Consumer Coalition and its members provide a voice for Illinois wine consumers. Our foundational principle is that Illinois consumers should have full access to the wines of their choice from both Illinois and out-of-state wineries and retailers. A well-regulated and efficient wine market demands full access to all wines for adult Illinois consumers. ”

That quote come from the organizers of the Illinois Wine Consumer Coalition, a grassroots project that officially opened its website this week. You should join this organization, in order to increase Illinois consumers' access to the entire wine universe.

A brief history lesson now, which you may not have received from our Illinois newspapers and television stations: Last summer, HB-429 was signed into law by Governor Blagojevich. This law allowed one positive for Illinois wine lovcrs (allowing for the shipment of wines directly by the winery, provided they pay for an access permit), but took away one important right which consumers valued for fifteen years (the ability to order from out of state retailers or over the Internet).

It's easy to take wine availability and access here in Illinois, especially in Chicago. There are plenty of local retailers, both large and small, with exciting selections (just see some of my favorites on the left side of this blog). We can even buy wines in supermarkets (try that in New York City, or my parents' home state of Connecticut). The amount of competitors help keep prices lower than in other regions.

But sooner or later, you will read about or hear about a wine that you just can't get here in Illinois. Maybe you read a review in a Wine Porn magazine that intrigues you. Or maybe Gary V. on that Wine Library video blog raved about something that is unavailable with every store you checked. If this wine isn't available in the portfolio of a local middleman (distributor), you have to order direct (kind of hard if it's a foreign wine), or go without.

The Illinois Wine Consumer Coalition seeks to make consumers aware of this issue with the ultimate goal to repeal 429 and return free consumer wine choice to Illinois consumers. Should this happen, I doubt that any local stores will go out of business (most of my wino friends spread their purchases across several stores), and won't lead to more underage drinking (how much wine do you remember drinking in your high school and college days)? Please join me in this group and keep reading my blog for updates about their progress.

P.S.: Listen for an interview from Gretchen Neuman and MaryAnne Spinner of the Illiniois Wine Consumer Coalition this Sunday, January 25, at 1:00 p.m. on WCPT-AM.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

New Year's Wine Resolutions

With the arrivial of 2009, it’s time to look at old habits, see what’s working in one’s life, and which aspects need fresh thinking. When the subject turns to wine, several bloggers have already weighed in with their own resolutions for 2009. Hopefully I can keep all of these fairly simple promises to myself, and if not, you readers will not feel the need to remind me!

First is to continue to try new varietals, especially ones from countries not considered the "Usual Suspects" when it comes to fine wine. If you go to the website of the Wine Century Club, you can download their application form, which lists more winemaking grapes then even many sommeliers know about.

The next resolution is to truly understand my palate, and its likes and dislikes both for wine and for different food and wine combinations. Don't feel you have to like everything a wine server or friend suggests you try (even if I am your friend!)

In order to clarify my wine tastes, I need to take more notes when I drink. This is a hard one for me. I have a wine log on CellarTracker, and most of my wine purchases are entered there, but my notes are limited. Even a few words will provide a permanent record of a particular experience (and if I can remember to write what I ate with the wine, that provides more of a context).

Fourth is to comment frequently on other blogs and wine bulletin boards. The best learning experience for wine, of course, is regular tasting with friends: laughing, flirting, telling jokes, talking politics, and oh yes, discussing the wines in question. But online forums are aplenty; most of the Wine Porn mags have one, along with CellarTracker, Robert Parker and Wine Library. And there are hundreds of blogs, much more professional than this one, where I can share my notes, and get suggestions for future bottles to try.

The last resolution can help my career, my cultural awareness, and my wine knowledge, and that is to learn a foreign language. Especially when tasting wines from outside the states, with those intimidating labels, a familiarity with the language can help me understand and appreciate what's in my glass more intimately.

Have you made any resolutions relating to wine in 2009? Please share in the comments or send me an email!

Looking Back on a Year of Tasting

It’s time to look back on some favorite moments from this past year, most of them involving wine. Of course, one of my high points is starting this blog and sharing my limited (but expanding) wine knowledge with all of you!

Around the time I began Chicago Pinot, I received a wonderful opportunity to work in a wine department (which I refer to on this blog as The Night Thing), very near my South Side home. I want to personally thank Tracy Liang for giving me this chance, and I hope that every customer and potential customer I met in 2009 felt they received positive customer service from our wine team. We are planning a major expansion of our store this winter; so hopefully you’ll have a much broader wine inventory to choose from very soon!

In late October, I spent a weekend in Sonoma County with almost two hundred fellow bloggers for the first Wine Bloggers Conference organized by the online group Open Wine Consortium. In addition to meeting several of the writers who inspired me to start blogging, I learned strategies for promoting the blog, aesthetic and technical improvements I can make to it (working on that!) and how to maintain personal ethics when writing about such a glamorous subject.

Our two keynote speakers both provided inspiration, but in very different styles. Friday night, Wine Library TV ringmaster Gary Vaynerchuk gave us his usual YOU CAN DO IT! pep rally. Saturday night, along with a delicious dinner served at Sebastiani Winery (under new management now, sigh), author and blogger Alice Feiring gently reminded us not to sell out our values or convictions, and to never forget the history and majesty of wine. If Gary V. is the wine media’s Oprah, then Alice qualifies as its Dr. Laura; insisting (maybe a little stridently) on maintaining personal and professional integrity at all times.

We also took a tour of our choice of six different appellations within Sonoma valley (my choice, Russian River Valley, where Pinot Noir reigns). Oh and we drank wine. Lots of wine. All weekend. (Sorry I don’t have any pictures of that!)

I do have some pictures
of our hike, though!

When not working at The Day or The Night Thing, you probably saw me at one of the numerous tastings and classes taking place throughout Chicago. Some of the larger events I’ve attended, such as this one in Millennium Park, are starting to lose interest for me. Between the crowds, the lines, and the difficulty of truly concentrating on each individual tasting, these “wineapaloozas” are fun if you go with friends and just want to acquire a lingering buzz to start your weekend, but they don’t add too much to your wine vocabulary.

Much better were the single grape classes that Just Grapes conducted this past summer. I only attended one meeting (about Pinot Grigio), but I hope they repeat the series in 2009. This series focused on one varietal each night; and served six different examples of it. A group of no more than thirty of us swished, tasted, and discussed (and argued a little too), all in the name of getting a real clue to what flavors and textures a wine-producing grape or region can offer.

Rhone if you want to!

One of my favorite regions for vino is the Rhone Valley in France. In September, at one of those “mega-tastings” out in Rosemont, Megan Wiig, conducted a free-with-admission seminar about the Rhone, where power, juicy acidity and (potential) affordibility all combine.

I also have fond memories of the wine meetups I have attended. The greater Chicago area must have at least a dozen wine groups you can join through Meetup. Throughout the summer, Hertha Meyer's group met at Millennium Park for its series of free concerts. Everyone brought some food or wine, and many new friends were made. And one-woman dynamo Joelen Agram held monthly gatherings at her home where different varietals were studied throughout the year.

In 2009, I hope to expand my wine knowledge by attending more tastings, making new contacts in the industry and hopefully, conversing with many new readers of this blog (hopefully keeping this all within a realistic budget). I'll see you wherever a bottle is about to get poured!