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!

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?


  1. There are more and more wine bars opening up in the area. Not all of them serve flights but I definitely like to order my wine this way. Especially when faced with a list I know nothing about. One of my favorites offers flights but they are not designated already but rather crafted after talking with one of the servers about what you like (or you can choose your own if you are overly controlling). Another of my favorite wine bars (which doesn't serve flights but offers wine in tastes and glasses) is opening a relatively aged and expensive wine every Tuesday and selling it as glasses. While I didn't take advantage last week when I stopped in for a plate of mussels (I wasn't prepared for the price), the idea is starting to grow on me. Might be the only way I get to try these wines.

  2. Hey, thanks for the comment. Where is this wine bar you're talking about that will create a custom flight for you? Are these bars you're speaking of in the Chicagoland area?

  3. No, I live a couple minutes outside DC. So if you ever come to the DC area, check out Grape and Bean in Alexandria, VA. It was opened by a guy I went to high school with and is doing very well. I will have to pay attention to any other restaurant/wine bar recommendations as my national conference is at the convention center in Chicago this year.