Summer Wines from Vinoverve

Of the 5 themes of this just passed 777 week I think ‘Summer’ was my favorite. After all, Chicago is finally showing signs of the season. I walked by Quartino’s full outdoor cafe, and the Dana Hotel is showing off the outdoor patio with what looks like an opening party of sorts. And I just got home, thirsty, perspiring appropriately, in need of a refreshing beverage to take the edge off. A beer? Not tonight. I am thinking riesling. From Austria. Rudi Pichler. Yum.

Anyhow, I thought it appropriate to recap some of the fun ‘Summer Wines’ that were featured during the 777 wine week and that may provide some alternatives for consumption on the deck, by the pool, in the park (if legal), at the beach (same), or on a picnic.

Wolffer Reserve Chardonnay, The Hamptons 2005
I know what you’re thinking, “I don’t like Chardonnay”. Or maybe, “Long Island? Chardonnay?”. Or, like me you are thinking, “why would I drink anything that is not Riesling?” Honestly I can’t counter that last one. Unless you consider the place. Sag Harbor. The Hamptons. No, not P Diddy’s white party. The beach, the sand, the ultimate summer destination (actually I prefer Montauk but Wolffer is only a little more than an hour away.) And Wolffer makes a clean, mineral driven style that feels more Burgundy than California. And if you ask me, winemaker Roman Roth is the class of NY State.

Lechtaler Lagrein Rosato, Trentino Italy 2007
Rose and Summer are like Christmas and eggnog. This fresh and fruity yet mineral expressive rosato is from northeastern Italy, where german is spoken as much as italian, and where the little known but relatively available Lagrein varietal makes it’s home. Usually a sommelier favorite on all-italian wine lists, Lagrein makes a medium bodied red that I liken to merlot, perhaps with more spice. This pink version is a fun summer quaffer that will take food or please all by itself.

Pio Cesare Grignalino, Piedmont Italy 2006
Reds for Summer fall into a difficult area for sommeliers. You have your Summer Wine checklist: Riesling? Check. Rose? Check. Light bodied red? Uh, check, I think. Well, here is a light bodied red called Grignalino. Not Barbera, not Nebbiolo, this red grape of Piedmont produces a very pleasant light red with a cherry note, earth, some spice and structural element. Burgundy-like indeed. This wine was very well received by guests of the 777 Summer Wine day.

Martray Cote de Brouilly Beaujolais 2005
I have been looking for a cru Beaujolais to knock my socks off for some time. Wow. Look out for 2005 Beaujolais. This is really a Burgundy substitute (technically it is in the department, but this is Gamay, not Pinot Noir). David Burke’s Primehouse is selling it for $45 a bottle. Top value.

Betts and Scholl Riesling, Eden Valley Australia 2007
I have been poked and teased about my love affair with Betts and Scholl wines. Richard Betts was here last week and hosted a late night tasting at The James Hotel. The room was hot. No literally, it was. The air was not working. So rather than revisiting the OG Grenache, The Chronique, Black Betty, California Syrah, Hermitage Rouge, I was sipping Riesling. I think it was Richard who coined it the ‘Margarita’ of wines.

There are so many great wines for Summer and these are just a few that may prove interesting, enjoyable, and practical. I am still working on that bottle of Rudi Pichler Terassen Smaragd 2000. If you can get your hands on that and want to fire up the grill, give me a call.


Napa Valley Wine Auction Preview

From our Mid-Atlantic correspondent, Richard

From: Flora Springs Winery & Vineyards
To: Richard
Subject: Napa Valley Wine Auction Preview

Auction Napa Valley tickets on sale March 31, 2008

Auction Napa Valley E-Auction Preview

The buzz in Napa Valley has startedit’s almost time for the granddaddy of charity wine auctions, Auction Napa Valley 2008, The American Wine Classic. But you can get in on the bidding excitement, without even attending the event!

Starting on May 23, wine lovers everywhere around the globe will be able to bid on and win lots via the Internet in Auction Napa Valley’s E-Auction.

We invite you to join in the fun by checking out and bidding on these 80 incredible auction lots including the one from Flora Springs that features rare and one-of-a-kind bottles and collections of wine; private events and weekend stays hosted by Napa Valley vintners; luxury items; and more.

What’s more, proceeds support Napa County health, youth development and housing nonprofit organizations. Over the past 27 years, Auction Napa Valley has donated close to $78 million to local nonprofits.

The online lot preview is now open. Start viewing the lots from Flora Springs and our neighbors. We can guarantee the most difficult task will be trying to decide which lots to bid on!

Friday, May 23: E-Auction opens at

Friday, June 6: E-Auction closes in three waves, 2:00, 2:30 and 3:00 p.m. Pacific time.

The E-Auction: it’s fun, it’s easy, it’s a great way to experience the best Napa Valley has to offer with items that often can’t be purchased anywhere else all while raising money for a great cause.

New Arrivals

Yes, it has been a banner week for Long Island wine shipments here at VinoVerve! At Kevin’s office, I discovered the Wölffer 2003 Estate Selection Merlot. I suspect, I will need to cook up some lovely read meat to go along with it. I also got a lovely selection of Vosges chocolate bars for Valentines day… I wonder if any of those would work this wine….

We also received the Bedell 2006 Merlot and the 2005 Musée. I have always liked the Bedell Merlots so I am sure this will be excellent as well. The Musée will be the interesting experiment. It is a blend of 78% Merlot, 17% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Petit Verdot. It seems to be taking the place of another favorite of ours, the Cupola wines which they stopped making a couple of years ago. This seems a higher end wine for them($65) and has a beautiful photo from artist/East End resident Chuck Close.

I get the feeling that I will have to plan three separate events around the tastings of these wines…


Grapevine News

Last minute Holiday gift!

Wine Across America, A Photographic Road Trip by Daphne Larkin, photos by Charles O’Rear, examines a topic close to our heart here at VinoVerve… It is an exploration of the wines being produced all over America. It is certainly on my Christmas list!

World Wide Wines

The Telegraph’s Kakoly Chatterjee reports that United Spirits will begin exporting wine to the UK and the US in March. The wines, produced in India, will be packaged with “ethnic” labels to draw attention to their production origin. The wines will be available in the Indian market as of January

But We Can’t Get it Here

Marcia Moore, reporting for the Johnstown, PA, Tribune-Democrat reports on a survey of state-owned liquor store that control the sale of wine and other spirits in the state. According to the report, the staff, while knowledgeable about the products available in the store were largely unable to provide customers with some of the most popular wines. In this case, those that made Wine Spectator’s list of the most exciting wines of 2007.

Winery Incubating

Prosser, Washington
has created a new business development that is believed will become a local attraction according to the Tri-City Herald. Vintner’s Village is already home to four wineries and will include a private winery incubator with three additional tasting rooms.

Over the River and Through the Woods…

To my house this year!

My folks generally handle the Thanksgiving festivities but this year due to work considerations opted to let me and my shiny new kitchen handle the majority of the cooking. Not to be outdone, my father did bring the turkey and the dressing…. because as we have learned from inestimable Alton Brown, stuffing is evil because it both dries out the meat and creates a bacterial time bomb in your oven.

That being said, we had reached the point in the preparations where is was now time to finally select those wines that we would consume with our fowl friend… These were the planned choices and really we stuck to them pretty closely. Although I think we were much more in a mood for red wine and ended up drinking 2004 Warm Lakes Estate Pinot Noir in addition to the Hilton Clay in lieu of the Flora Springs. Our friend, Richard would be horrified, but in the end we will enjoy that Chardonnay so I say no harm, no foul on that choice.

My folks enjoyed the Gruet Brut and initially thought that it was a French wine. They were stunned to find that it came from New Mexico and more pleased that I managed to find that particular bottle for about $13.00 at WDC. The pinot noirs, on the other hand we had found together when out on our adventures on the Escarpment. This was our opportunity to taste them side by side again and this time get my mother’s opinion (as she kindly took charge of the girls that day). Over all the 2004 was preferred to the Hilton Clay but we enjoyed both…

After dinner as we enjoyed the maple cream pie, we tasted a number of lovely wines… A Port from Niagara Landing which tasted of Concord grapes, a R.L. Buller Tawny Port and Lustau Solera Reserva Rare Cream Sherry .

Pinot Days….

So many wines…. not nearly enough time….


Well Kevin and I are parents and Saturdays are full of practices and birthday parties and the carting of children hither and yon… and last Saturday was no exception. Despite the late start we finally did arrive at Navy Pier received our stylish neon wristbands, our glass and guide and we were off….One of wineries that we tried was Belle Glos Wines….We tasted the 2006 Clark & Telephone Vineyard Santa Maria Hills, Pinot Noir. It was a wonerfully balanced wine… Perfect for starting our search…

We worked our way through the crowds, we made our way to the table for Demetria Estate. They had two offerings both with more of European approach to the wine making.
I thought it was interesting that there were German red wines. The Kuntsler, in particular was well balanced and full of flavor. I only hope that as German winemakers experiment with new forms, we don’t lose the best of what German white wine. On the other hand, innovation may help keep those wines new and interesting for future generations… another sign that I am hopeless conflicted about tradition and innovation….
This wine was so new it hasn’t been bottled yet! That is what I love about these kinds of events… Makes you wish that this Ketcham Estate pinot noir was in the bottle already….
I liked the Joelle Sonoma Coast pinot noir…(honestly, I am not really sure, why I keep making the designation… this is PINOT days after all…) But more importantly I liked that wine making doesn’t have to take place exclusively in California…Chris and Amy Winslow the vintners of this wine actually live in Ohio! Hopefully soon, they will attempt to make excellent wines in their home state!

My Dinner With Roman 10/01/07

If you are lucky enough to be invited to a dinner at NoMi showcasing the wines of Clarendon Hills, the iconic winery of South Australia’s McClaren Vale region, be prepared to drink world class wine. And if Clarendon Hills Owner/Winemaker Roman Bratasiuk is hosting the dinner, be prepared to witness world class chutzpah (Yiddish for arrogance). Roman might have you believe that he is the only winemaker to conquer brettanomyces, that there is no other Australian wine worth drinking, and that his palate is the best in the world. And yet, somehow, Roman Bratasiuk remains likable. Roman clearly likes to hear the sound of his own voice, which is generally tooting his proverbial horn, and diplomacy or polite consideration doesn’t figure into his character. Producing great wine however, does.

Roman Bratasiuk produced his first vintage in 1990 from the old vines (planted circa 1845) around the town of Clarendon Hills, about 25 miles south of Adelaide. A passion for high quality old world wines and the recognition of specific vineyard sites allowed Roman to craft the style for which he is now known. Twelve vineyards contribute to the sixteen single varietal wines made from Syrah, Grenache, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot. The vines are dry farmed, hand pruned and picked, and produce very small quantities of intense fruit. The wines spend an average of 18 months on the lees in tight grained French Oak barrels that are selected by Roman himself. There is no filtering or fining. The resulting wines combine the purity and finesse of classic Old World wines, particularly those of the Northern Rhone, with the focus and intensity of the New World.

The dinner was a showcase of the 2004 vintage and the pairing menu was superb. Spice Braised Pork Belly accompanied Kangarilla Grenache and the Blewitt Springs Grenache. I am a self declared ‘Grenache Freak’ and Roman’s expressions of the Southern Rhone varietal is a benchmark for his region. Both wines displayed a youthful reluctance to show themselves, though there was an apparent difference; Kangarilla exhibited softer floral aromatics while Blewitt had a smoked meat, and overall more aggressive character. The food and wine pairing can be explained by one comment from another guest, “bacon fat with bacon fat”.

The next course included Brookman Merlot, Roman’s only wine of that variety, and the Sandown Cabernet accompanied by Pan Roasted Duck Breast with Marcona Almonds, Pickled “Alisa Craig” Onions, and Dried Apricots. The Brookman Merlot was remarkable in that it was the most developed wine of the night, balancing red fruit flavors with exotic spice and harmony between the ripeness and acidity. I like to think of developing wines like teenagers struggling to feel comfortable in their own skin. Brookman Merlot was way more comfortable than its counterparts that night.

Duo of Jamison Farms Lamb; Roasted lamb Loin and Pave of Lamb Shoulder, Ratatouille Nicoise, Thyme and Red Pepper Infused Jus, was the course that for a moment made forget that I was there for the wine. Liandra Syrah and Hickinbotham Syrah paired with that spectacular dish, elegant decadence paired with elegant decadence, and it was an experience that I am not soon to forget. Roman declared one of the bottles of Liandra as flawed, but once corrected the wines were similarly tight in their expression, though still suitable for drinking right now.

The ultimate of Roman Bratsiuk’s arsenal of great wines comes form Syrah from the Astralis vineyard, and on that night was served with a trio of cheeses. Astralis has a special character, no doubt about that. What differentiated Astralis from the pack to me was that, while its expression of fruit and intensity matched or surpasses the other wines present, its freshness and acidity was more pronounced. I made a comment regarding acidity in the Astralis to Roman, but like he had done to everyone all night, he shot me down.

The wines that night were fantastic, though I would like to have a repeat of that lineup in five years and see where the 2004 Clarendon Hills wines are after a little more time in bottle. I have recently tasted 1998 Astralis, and some of the other Clarendon wines that were closer to ten years from the vintage, and the wines were more complete, integrated, harmonious, expressive.

There are many characters in our beloved world of wine and Roman Bratasiuk is certainly one of them. The wines he makes are impeccable, some of the best I have ever tasted. Roman the man is interesting, funny, boorish, pompous, loud, honest, passionate, blunt, unforgiving, and stubborn. Recently I met another great Australian winemaker, David Powell of Torbreck, who was similarly direct. Is it an Aussie thing, I wonder? Though he can be difficult, Roman is a great wine personality, and I appreciate that. I liked the wines before meeting him and I still do. Roman Bratasiuk makes wines that I cherish, and highly recommend for cellaring for 5 to 10 years, maybe more.

October’s Children

Sommeliers and wine buyers from top restaurants in Chicago are hard to assemble. The restaurant business, an unforgiving mother, likes to keep its children occupied. Yet certain trade events are a guaranteed draw to the dedicated wine professionals that toil because of an undying work ethic, limitless passion, and an unquenchable thirst for knowledge. To that extent, October has been a very good month.

It started for me on October 1st, when I had the good fortune to attend a dinner with Roman Bratasuik, owner/winemaker for Clarendon Hills at NoMi. The private dining room at NoMi, by the way, is the premier venue for intimate wine dinners/lunches and I have attended at least four spectacular events there.

October 8th was the highly anticipated walk-around tasting of the year as Chicago Wine Merchants presented Bordeaux, Burgundy, and Champagne.

On October 10th Master Sommelier Richard Betts was in Chicago and hosted a trade lunch at Le Lan to feature his Betts and Scholl wines.

And tomorrow, October 23rd, will be an event organized by esteemed Master of Wine Serena Sutcliffe that is called Young Lions of Winemaking-Legends of the Future. This event will feature 11 of the top young winemakers to discuss the direction of the industry and the challenges to come. I am already fortunate enough to have met two of these Young Lions, Marco Caprai of Arnaldo Caprai, a top Sagrantino producer, and Jean-Baptiste Lecaillon of Champagne Louis Roederer. Young Lions should be a great opportunity to participate in the discussion that revolves around wine with the core of the wine community, the producers.

I like October for a lot of reasons, from World Series baseball to Halloween candy and pumpkin pie. But this October has been special because of the great wine events that I have attended and shared with my colleagues, wine pros from top restaurants and hotels like Gabriel’s, NoMi/Park Hyatt, Avenues/Peninsula, and Charlie Trotter’s. I believe that the people who do what we do, serving the Chicago dining community, can justify all the hard work and long hours because it affords certain rewards. One of those great rewards is access to the winemakers, their wines and the stories behind the wines. There are always tastings and events going on in town for a wine buyer to attend, but rarely are so many great events held in succession as they have been this month. More detail to come regarding the wines and specific events that I mentioned above…

Niagara Redux

How many wineries did Kevin and I (and my Dad) manage to hit before we had to join up with the family?

Two, you say? HA! As if!


How about 5 and then the family wine tour as well.

Now you are probably thinking that we were driving like crazy people throughout the back roads of Western New York high on merlot…. but you would be wrong. The fact is that most of these wineries were fairly close together and the tastings rooms professionally operated which meant that we never got more than a tasting pour.

Which wineries did we visit?

Honeymoon Trail was the first stop of our tour…And the location where we signed up for the best deal we got the entire weekend… See, the members of the Niagara Wine Trail were celebrating their Harvest Festival. This meant that for the weekend you could purchase a special wristband for $10.oo, get a free tasting glass and then free tastings at the memeber wineries. Naturally we thought this was great!

Honeymoon Trail is a winery that has operated for about a decade. They produce a number of types of grape wines as well as fruit wines as well (Frankly, I view them all as fruit wines as grapes are fruit, but I have heard enough complaints from friends and relatives to stop making this claim… sort of ). One of the wines that we purchased was their dandelion wine which is produced from the flowers of the plant. Having been a girl who often walked around picking dandelions for my mother and offered as gifts at religions shrines I couldn’t resist trying this wine. The taste was unusual but reminded me of summer sunshine.

Other wines that were available at the winery include:

  • Apple
  • Baco Noir
  • Cabernet Franc
  • Cayuga White
  • Chancellor
  • Chardonnay
  • Cherry
  • Concord (Honeymoon’s Over)
  • Coyote
  • Dandelion
  • Diamond
  • Full Moon
  • Honeymoon Sweet
  • Mighty Niagara
  • Peach
  • Pink Catawba
  • Pinot
  • Raspberry
  • Razzleberry
  • Riesling
  • Seyval Blanc
  • Strawberry
  • Vignoles
  • White Lace

The next winery that we visited was the Niagara Landing Wine Cellars. This winery was somewhat smaller than the previous winery and also supports itself as a Welch’s contract grower.

They produce:

  • Chardonnay-semi dry
  • Riesling-semi dry
  • Vidal Blanc-semi dry
  • Cayuga White-semi dry
  • NL House White
  • Siegfried
  • Boxer Blush
  • Misty Niagara
  • Rosebud White
  • Rosebud Peach
  • Merlot
  • Cabernet Sauvignon
  • 2005 Dry Steuben
  • 2005 NL House Red
  • 2005 NL House Rosé
  • Captain’s Choice
  • Red Rooster
  • Stearman Steuben
  • Sweet Captain
  • Rosebud Rosé
  • Raspberry Rosebud
  • Port
  • Cranberry Wine
  • Blueberry Wine
  • Cherry Wine
  • Pear Wine (Currently sold out)

Which wineries did we see next? Stay tuned until tomorrow!

Bedell Cellars/Corey Creek

Yes, this entry is from a trip we took a while ago, (within the last month though). It sure would have been nice to go to wineries in both New York and Illinois this weekend. Talk about your labor day! Work, work, work.. that is all I do! (Yes, I know that I am tasting wine which is no particular hardship for me… I am just teasing)

Kevin and I discovered Bedell and Corey Creek Vineyards years ago when trapped on one of my father-in-law’s infamous “Drives”. During these scenarios we are all trapped in a van with insufficient air conditioning or safety harnesses while we traversed the east end of Long Island looking at the houses of every person my father-in-law has ever met or heard of. That being said, the wineries were one of the few treasures of these trips.

These days, we tend to go by ourselves without chainsmokers or children in tow to be able to linger and listen to the stories from the vintners as they tell their grapish tales. Ahhh, this is the life, right? Darn tootin’ it is!

Inevitably, Corey Creek and Bedell are among our favorite wineries out east. Located about 15 miles east of Riverhead, NY the vineyards and tasting rooms are located along Route 25. Wines from both vineyards are available at either tasting room.

Our favorites from the Bedell Cellars include the 2005 Taste Red, blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, and Syrah and 2005 Reserve Merlot. Other selections available include:

  • 2006 Taste White
  • 2005 Bedell Gallery
  • 2005 Merlot
  • Main Road Red
  • Main Road White

The Corey Creek wine that I can’t live without is the Domaine CC Rosé. Made in the style of a Provençale rosé, it is dry and fruity and light, which I find perfect for summer. This year there has been increased attention give to rosé wines and unfortunately for me, this has meant decreased supplies of my favorite (Perhaps next year the crowds will move back to Chardonnay). Kevin’s favorite is the Late Harvest Riesling which is sweeter and more fruity and perfect for the ending of nice dinner. Other Corey Creek Options include:

  • 2005 Reserve Chardonnay
  • 2005 Chardonnay
  • 2005 Cabernet Franc
  • Raspberry
  • 2006 Gewürztraminer (sadly, sold out)

As members of their wine club, at least we won’t have to wait all year to get another taste!