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.