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!