Every bottle has a story

I am not a wine expert, but with each bottle I try and share with friends, I learn more. Wine is an exceptional social drink; it is the marijuana of alcoholic beverages because it must be shared. I seek to share with you my thoughts and experiences as I drink the wine in my closet, as well as my enthusiasm for the finds that come my way and the excellent values that I find. I'd love to hear your thoughts and experiences too, so please share!

Friday, April 22, 2011

Young, big and delicious

Recently I went out to dinner at erwin in Chicago with friends Curt and Todd. The special for the night was a French country style chicken, which both Curt and I ordered. Todd ordered the sautéed calf’s liver served with turnips. Both entrees had very flavorful sauces. The chicken thighs also were served atop a bed of green and ripe olives with other herbs, and came with a delicious leek soup.

I was delegated the wine choice, and considering our dinners, I identified three choices, noting I leaned heavily toward a Gigondas I saw on the list. My guidance was followed and we had the Elegantia 2009 Gigondas.

A southern Rhône appellation, Gigondas is like a value Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Normally not as big as a Châteauneuf, Gigondas nonetheless can have great depth and character, and the better ones age rather well too. Better still, you can find some really outstanding Gigondas for $25 or less, while a similarly stellar Châteauneuf-du-Pape will cost you a minimum of $50, mostly like closer to $100 or more. While this was a bit pricy on the menu, the Elegantia retails for under $20.

The Elegantia is not a well-known wine. The label shows no information regarding a house or vintner, which likely means the wine is made through a cooperative. That might indicate to some people lower quality, but I assure you it does not. This wine turned out to be a superb accompaniment for both entrees.

It has a beautiful light and delicate color, almost like a Pinot Noir. The taste is light with subtle mineral and a deliciously long chocolate finish. There’s even a hint of chocolate on the nose with light berry. It was juicy, but not jammy. And the cassis fruit was so delicate it really gave it a fine focus and depth.

I give this a 9 using my scale at the left.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

A wine bar weekend

On Saturday a new friend of mine and I went to a wine bar in Lincoln Park and sampled two of their flights, one white and the other red. My friend, Andrew, wanted to learn more about wine and the wine bar was a perfect solution.

D.O.C. Wine Bar has many locations throughout Chicagoland, and like many wine bars, offers you the opportunity to sample flights of similar wines so you can get an idea of what a region offers or what a varietal offers. It’s a great way for neophytes to learn about varietals and regions, as well as learn the techniques to discern flavor differences and test your pallet. For more experienced wine drinkers, these wine bars can present opportunities with their various flights to sample new wines you may be unaware of, as well as give you opportunities to sample varietals that you might normally not purchase.

The abbreviation D.O.C. in Italian is for Denominazione di Origine Controllata, and is the equivalent to France’s Appelation D’Origine Contrôlee. It reflects a wine region’s denomination designation, and for the DOC, this is defined by the geographic area of production and specifies the varietals that may be used for wine making in order to earn that designation. This board also controls the minimum alcohol content in the wine, the maximum allowable yield with the grapes, and specifications for aging.

For our tastings, Andrew and I started off with three wines in the “Euro trash” flight, a curiously named trio of varietals that I am aware of, but haven’t much experience drinking. I tapped my notes into my iPhone as we drank, and below is what I chronicled.

Strele 2009 Soave, Vento, Italy: Light nose, orchard fruit, apple, peach, a very light flavor, not too sweet, very fresh and crisp, juicy.

Reventos 2009 Muscat/Macabeo, Penedes, Spain: Nose more rustic, longer finish, more herbal, fruit gradually exposed, a curious, almost medicinal flavor, not unpleasant.

Chateau Moncontour 2009, Chenin Blanc, Vouvray, Loire Valley, France: Light, fresh nose, juicy, spicy apple, light finish, best of the three.

Andrew and I both agreed we thought it interesting how the three wines were ordered. The Soave presented juicy and delicious orchard fruit followed next by the Muscat, which was decidedly more herbal and even a bit suppressed. Andrew didn’t care much for it, but I thought it good, though very different from the first. And then the Chablis placed itself right in the middle, having both the light juiciness of the orchard fruit, but still presenting complexity and mineral qualities.

We thought, then, that the ordering was deliberate, so when we ordered a Pinot Noir flight next, we anticipated a similar progression. Before tasting, I explained to Andrew why Pinot Noir can be so beguiling, how difficult it is to grow and how delicate it is to craft into good wine. Nebbiolo is also like this, which is why red Burgundy and Barolos can be such huge disappointments at times: both tend to be expensive, and both varietals are very similar in character. So when Burgundy or Barolo is made well, these wines are extraordinary. But when made poorly, they can be enormous duds.

Nieto 2010 Pinot Noir, Mendoza, Argentina: Can’t peg the nose, the smell is familiar, but can’t name it. A very young wine, thin, watery, no finish. Color a beautiful transparent ruby.

Block Nine 2009, Pinot Noir, California: Light berry nose, bit of spice, tannin noticeable, longer finish, a hint of cinnamon. Tasty, but nothing special.

Vincent Sauvestre 2008, Pinot Noir, Burgundy, France: Nothing on the nose, literally sans smell, bright fruit, but again diluted.

With this flight, we experienced the ephemeral quality that is Pinot Noir. All three wines were generally disappointments in my book, although I must say it was curious to see a Pinot Noir from the Mendoza region of Argentina. If I hadn’t of done this, I wouldn’t have known about the fact there are growers dabbling with Pinot Noir in Argentina.

Repeat visits to wine bars like this are a good idea because the tasting flights do change periodically, so there will be something of interest. And the bottle selection can be relatively deep, although rather expensive, particularly for the higher end wines. For example, D.O.C. has a Chassagne-Montrachet that goes for $116 a bottle, and a Chateuneuf-du-Pape that goes for more than $300.

All in all a delightful experience and one that shall be repeated.

Are there similar wine bars in your area? Tell me about them and your experiences by leaving a comment. What new wine have you discovered through similar tasting flights?

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Delightful complexity

I return to my favorite region in France with a Côtes du Rhône that is decently prices at $13. The 2009 Cuveé les Trois Soeurs from Domaine les Grands Bois is a satisfying red with complexity and the fine mineral quality that I’ve come to admire with Rhône wines. Despite the fact my tasting notes match up pretty well with Robert Parker’s, I think he was a bit too generous to rate this wine at 90 points.

What struck me first as I poured the wine was the deep purple color, rich and dark like blackberry. On the nose there was faint vanilla, a subtle boysenberry backed by a denseness that always almost like a barrier to something else beyond. There were earthy notes, and a hint of leather, like tack.

Upon tasting, the firm tannins didn’t overpower the mineral quality or the subtle white chocolate. The fruit was faint, but discernable, served on a slate plate with an herbal dusting that reminded me of gentle spice: white pepper, cinnamon and savory herbs like light sage and thyme.

At $13, this wine certainly drank like a higher priced Cuveé, but as I mentioned, it wasn’t quite a 90-pointer in my mind. It went well with a simple pasta dish served with spicy Italian sausage. For the price, I will likely pick this one up again.

I rate it 8.5 using my scale at the left.