Have I ever mentioned?

Marguerite Barrett

Contributing Writer
Has Gretchen ever mentioned she likes French wine?  Hmmm…  I think I may have heard those words mentioned once or twice.
However, I do have to say that Gretchen’s musings yesterday made me stop and think.  While I’m not a complete neophyte in the wine department, I’m not an expert either.  
And to be honest, I’ve never really thought about the idea of “geography” as part of the wine, other than to say that something is from one country or another – or that climate (such as colder vs. warmer climates) can affect the wines.  But Gretchen’s post made me think in a whole new way.
I, too, have a fondness for French wines, but given a choice, Italy is my preferred European region.  Why?  I don’t know – I find Italian wines more interesting than French wines.  But that’s a discussion for another day.  
My point today is that having read “Have I Ever Mentioned” I began thinking…  So tonight when I went to the wine rack to select a new bottle of wine, I deliberately chose an Italian (I’ve been exploring Connecticut, New Zealand and South Africa recently so the only European wines I have in the house currently are Italian).   
I was much more conscious of the bouquet, and for the first time I smelled it – the soil!   There was an earthiness to the bouquet that I recognized but hadn’t realized what it was before.  And as the first sip hit my mouth, I was aware that what I often described inadequately as “dry” was in fact “minerals.”
I’m not educated enough in wines, grapes, etc. to be able to describe it correctly, but that’s o.k.  I learned something today, and even if I can’t explain it, my experience with wine has just become richer.
Salut, Gretchen!

Have I ever mentioned?

I love wine from France. I am not going to make excuses…

Nor am I going to call it Freedom Juice or other bullshit. I like French wine.



American wines don’t tend to have a sense of place in their taste. They taste of fruit. FRUIT FORWARD! or so I hear.

But I like place because that means that they taste like the ground. and that means geology. or better yet geography.

Why? Geography means culture and geology and climate and history which means that all of these elements make a difference in what we know about how to describe a wine.

But not just a wine. A region, hell, a winery. So can you taste the difference from one vineyard to another?

Well here is the most basic element.

Can you agree that there is a difference between how one vineyard treats its land, soil and plants the same way that another wine maker does?

And the simple answer is this: YES!

Why? because individuality of place is unique. Like personality. And so I embrace the concept of terroir.

Now for this wine? What can I say?

Well, first let me say that I do not RATE a wine. I don’t purport to be an expert. I am not sure that taste experts really exist. But I can tell you what I taste and experience.

Does this mean that I am supposed to be the authority? Hell no! You decide for yourself. But I am enjoying what I am drinking.

Tell me what you are enjoying too!

Win(e)ding Trails: Continuing Adventures on the Connecticut Wine Trail

Sunset Meadow Vineyards
Marguerite Barrett
Contributing Writer

Heading south on Route 63 from Canaan into Goshen, the Sunset Meadow Vineyards

are on your left. The Tasting Room is a 1-story building with a porch running the length of the front and a large patio area with outdoor seating on the side. Everything about Sunset Meadow is welcoming, from the seasonal decorations on the front porch

to the large open tasting room.

The tasting room itself is paneled in wood with a large bar running along the entire length of the back wall. Comfortable bar stools are spread out across the bar area, and there’s room to accommodate at least 12-15 tasters at a time. Behind the bar, wine racks line the walls, and off to your right French doors lead onto the patio area. A tasting is $6 and includes a Sunset Meadow Vineyards glass for you to take home. The staff is extremely pleasant and will stop and chat. When I stopped by last week, the Tasting Menu consisted of 5 wines:
Riesling – a nice Riesling; crisp with hints of apple. I’m generally not a big fan of Rieslings, and so passed quickly onto the Cayuga White.

Cayuga White – This is a crisp, fruity white that would be great with chicken or fish. I was quite impressed; the wine has a complexity that is interesting in the mouth. The tasting notes indicate grapefruit, melon and peach. I must admit I wasn’t able to discern any specific fruit, but the medley of flavors that balanced nicely, and in the end I find prefer wines that balance to those that have strong notes. The Cayuga was awarded a Bronze Medal in the 2008 International Eastern Wine Competition.

Merlot – I must admit I was less impressed with the Merlot than with the other wines. I’m finding that with respect to reds, Connecticut does better with blended wines. Perhaps it’s the climate, perhaps it’s the soil, but Connecticut Merlots don’t really stand up to the western coastal wines or even those of Long Island. The tasting notes indicate cherry and hints of black pepper and butter. I picked up more of the pepper and less of the cherry, and that could also have influenced my overall opinion of the wine.
Twisted Red – This wine is a blend of Cabernet, Cabernet Franc, Lemberger and Chambourcin and is aged in French Oak. It’s a full-bodied red, and on tasting my first thought was “Interesting, but probably needs to be aged a bit.” As it turns out, I was right. The tasting notes indicate that while it can be drunk immediately, it can also be saved for a few years. My impression is that if you leave it for a couple years before uncorking, you will a really rich, mellow red. I’ll let you know in a couple of years when I pour the bottle I bought after my tasting. This wine won a Bronze Medal at the 2008 Eastern States Wine Competition (the “BigE”), and was my favorite of all the wines featured in the tasting.

St. Croix – The tasting concluded with the St. Croix, a limited production, full-bodied red. This is an interesting wine: smooth, with a fruity bouquet, I detected notes of spices and pepper, and the wine grew more complex as I sipped. The tasting notes indicate the wine can age up to an additional 4 years, and I think this wine will definitely benefit from waiting a few years before uncorking.
I’ve been to the Sunset Meadow Vineyard Tasting Room twice now, and both times really enjoyed myself. It’s comfortable, with pleasant hosts and good wines. I’m looking forward to returning when the weather gets warmer, buying a couple bottles of wine and sitting on the patio with a few friends watching the sun set over the hills.

Note to Kevin & Gretchen – United has direct flights from O’Hare to Bradley every day!

Wine Tastings for a Cause

2008 Chicago Wine Opener:
Uncork the Cure

Chicago History Museum
1601 North Clark Street
Chicago, IL 60614

Date & Time:
Thursday, October 16th, 2008
6pm – 7pm VIP Reception
7pm – 10pm Wine Tasting

CF is a hereditary disease affecting the exocrine (mucus) glands of the lungs, liver, pancreas, and intestines, causing progressive disability due to multi-system failure. Cystic fibrosis is one of the most common life-shortening, childhood-onset inherited diseases. In the United States, 1 in 3,900 children are born with CF. That being said, it is considered an orphan disease by the National Institute of Health and relies on public awareness to help with funding.

So head on out and have some fun for a good cause. In addition to the wine tasting, there will be a silent auction, raffles and a wine auction.

VIP Reception – VIP Ticket
6:00 PM – 7:00 PM
$150 per ticket

A VIP Ticket will grant the ticket holder:

  • exclusive VIP wine tasting from 6:00 PM – 7:00 PM with wines provided by PRP Wine International
  • live entertainment from 6:00 PM – 7:00 PM provided by Dario Giraldo
  • exclusive after-hours admission to the recently opened Chicago History Museum’s “Chic Chicago” exhibit
  • VIP gift bag
  • admission to the wine tasting event from 7:00 PM – 10:00 PM with wines provided by PRP Wine International
  • opportunity to bid on exciting live and silent auction items
  • option to test your luck in the two wine raffles: Stock Your Wine Cellar and 65 Corks
  • chance to learn about cystic fibrosis and support the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation

Wine Tasting Event – General Admission Ticket
7:00 PM – 10:00 PM
$60/ticket before August 22nd
$75/ticket after August 22nd

A general admission ticket will grant the ticket holder:

  • admission to the wine tasting event from 7:00 PM – 10:00 PM with wines provided by PRP Wine International
  • opportunity to bid on exciting live and silent auction items
  • option to test your luck in the two wine raffles: Stock Your Wine Cellar and 65 Corks
  • chance to learn about cystic fibrosis and support the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation

I have to admit that Cystic Fibrosis is a special cause to me, as my brother, Peter John Miller died of it August 4, 1983 at the age of 11.

Dry Wines of Germany Tour- Rudi Wiest – "Trocken is Rockin!"

The photos in this post are courtesy of Lyle Fass, Chambers St. Wines

Even though I am known as Champagne Rory this time of year I jumped at the unique opportunity to attend a tasting and discussion hosted by Rudi Wiest Selections (Rudi seen left) and Maverick Wine Company at the Custom House in the South Loop. Over 52 dry German wines including Riesling, Sylvaner, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Scheurebe, and Pinot Noir from 19 producers were presented in a lightening quick and remarkably efficient method. Champagne Rory can sometimes morph into Riesling Rory, and when asked by his friend Laura Maniec to choose a desert island wine (a common question among wine geeks) on her winetalk.typepad.com blog , Riesling Rory showed his German Riesling affinity and replied as such. However, the German Riesling that I love tends to be balanced sweet stuff, the 8 to 9 percent alcohol green flutes from the Mosel, or my absolute favorite producer, Helmut Dönnhoff from the Nahe. Rudi Wiest’s German Dry Wine Tour, in its second year, is meant to introduce a message to restaurant and retail buyers (and market influencers) in 7 american cities; the true expression of German terroir is in the unadulterated dry wines from top vineyard sites and that Pinot Noir from Germany can compete on the world stage.

Germany is one of the truly misunderstood treasures of the wine world. Considered to be the northern most outpost of fine wine making, Germany has a wine tradition as long and rich as any nation in Europe. There are visible reminders of that history today, for example, an ancient Roman press house in pristine condition can be visited in the town of Piesport on the Mosel, and more Roman wine artifacts have been discovered on the Pfeffingen estate in the Pfalz. The next important arbiter of viticulture and vinification after the Romans were the Benedictine and Carthusian monks that proliferated throughout Europe around 1100 AD. The Pinot family of varietals and its various mutations like the Noir, Blanc, and Gris were transported by the Carthusians around this time, and there are records of Pinot Noir in Germany some 300 hundred years before any mention of Riesling. Yet, many of us think that wine from Germany is always sweet Riesling, and sweet wines carry a stigma these days that preclude many Americans from experiencing them.

Rudi Wiest is touring to spread the message that the sweet wine phenomenon is a very recent one. According to Gault Millau The Guide to German Wines,
“Looking back at the last century, one can say that there was a reasonably uniform style that was applied in the fist half of the century: At that time, apart from a small number of naturally sweet exceptions, German wine was usually fermented dry.”
Scientific techniques and modern equipment in the cellar allowed producers to change styles and produce sweet wines on a consistent basis. Chaptilization, or adding sugar to increase alcohol levels and retain fruity sweetness is still permitted in Qba, or Quality wines throughout Germany. The German Dry Wine Tour message speaks to the focused purity of soil expression that occurs in dry wines, and in fact, the majority of discussion as we raced through the 50 plus wines was regarding the loess, loam, red slate, blue slate, limestone, volcanic, iron, sandstone and red clay soils. Manipulation in the cellar through techniques like chaptilization, Rudi preaches, adulterates the quality varietal expression from top sites. Several efforts to organize, classify, and re-classify the wines of Germany may have contributed to quality control, but unfortunately the wine law changes of 1971, 2001, and the designations by the VDP (Verband Deutscher Pradikatsweinguter) to recognize sites as Erstes Gewachs (First Growths) and Grosses Gewachs, (Great Growths) in certain regions do little to clarify expectations for the consumer. So, the tour marches on and people like me are invited to carry the torch of the German dry wine message. A compelling message perhaps, but I took something else from the event; German Pinot Noir may now be carving out an intriguing identity and style (even though Germans have cultivated Pinot Noir for over a thousand years).

At the tasting were 16 very youthful German Pinot Noirs, or Spatburgunders from 2004 to 2006 (including some yet unbottled barrel samples). All were produced in a very precise style with light ruby to orange color, subtle strawberry and raspberry notes, and a green, stemmy structure that may be indicative of youth. Because of that ‘stemminess’ that I picked up from the first Pinot Noirs shown, I wondered about the ability of German Pinot Noir to display fruit expression and potential for harmonious balance. But as I tasted on there were some very interesting and potentially great wines that I would like to revisit in five or ten years. I began to see a continuity to the wines shown and found a sharp contrast to what most American and some Burgundian Pinot Noir has come to be in the very clean and ethereal Pinot Noir of southern Germany, particularly:
Meyer-Nakel Pinot Noir Dry Estate “Blue Slate” Ahr 2006
Rebholz Pinot Noir Dry “Tradition” Pfalz 2004
Rebholz Pinot Noir Dry “vom Muschelkalk” Pfalz 2004
Becker Pinot Noir Dry Estate Pfalz 2006 (barrel sample)
Becker Pinot Noir Dry “B” Estate Pfalz 2005 (barrel sample)
Becker Pinot Noir Dry Grosses Gewachs “St. Paul” Pfalz 2005
Furst Pinot Noir Dry “Tradition” Franken 2005
Furst Pinot Noir Dry Klingenberger Franken 2005
Furst Pinot Noir Dry “R” Gresses Gewachs, Burgstadter Centgrafenberg Franken 2005

Fritz Becker Jr, whose three Pinot Noirs all showed great potential, told us that some of his family’s best vineyards are actually on French soil and that because it was in Germany when the Beckers acquired it, it can continue to be used for making German labled wine. Becker jr. also explained that the choice of wood from the German oak forests, which he says are often passed on as French Barrels from cooperage houses in France, is the most suitable vessel for slowly developing the intricate nature of Pinot Noir.

After conclusion of the tasting I asked Scott Larsen, General Manager and Owner of Maverick Wine Company and local Rudi Wiest wholesaler, as to what he thinks the identity of German Dry wines, including Pinot Noir, can be in the ever more competitive wine market. Through a brief discussion that linked the Riesling and Pinot Noir as delicate varietals that, with care and respect for terroir by quality producers, can transcend all others (at least I think so, and don’t forget that Champagne is in large part Pinot Noir says Champagne Rory) I learned that Scott and Maverick are planning a tasting that features the two varieties for some time in 2008.

German wine is misunderstood indeed and there is much more to offer than libfermilch and sweet Qba wine. Germany offers distinctive wines and traditions that deserve to be mentioned in the conversation of the top wine making regions of the world. I will continue to treasure sweet Riesling from Germany, especially from that Stradivarius maker in the Nahe named Donnhoff, but will also look out for quality dry whites and will seriously follow the development of Pinot Noir from Pfalz and Franken.


Rudi Wiest also recommended a book by German wine authority Stuart Piggot that has yet to be translated to english. I tried to find out more about Piggot and found a few YouTube clips (see next post below).

Panelists from the tasting included
Rudi Wiest – Importer of International Recognition
Felix Buerklein – Franz Künstler Estate
Christoph Graf – von Buhl Estate
Max von Kunow – Hans Wirsching Estate
Hansjörg Rebholz – Rebholz Estate
Fritz Becker Jr. – Becker Estate
Sebastien Fürst – Fürst Estate

Pinot Days!

Pinot Days are here! Well, this weekend anyway.

Kevin and I will be making sure that the girls are ensconsed in properly supervised activities then head down to Navy Pier for the Grand Tasting.

After considering the advice of Alder Yarrow, I will be:

  • Getting a good night’s sleep the night before;
  • Wear dark colors (less of an issue as that is most of my wardrobe);
  • Drink lots of water;
  • Have a full stomach; and
  • Spitting.

Just in case, though, I bring my trusty camera and notebook… Yes, I am that much of a dork.

Hope to see you there! Say ,”Hi!” if you see us.