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Recently in Wine Category

by guest blogger and New York writer Seanan Forbes

James Beard Foundation Award-winning writers Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg are celebrating two anniversaries. Their book, The Flavor Bible, was published two years ago; their wedding took place two decades ago. theflavorbiblecoverdepix0808.jpeg

Among chefs, culinary students and sommeliers, their reputation is something more than solid. Chicagoan Belinda Chang, wine director at the Modern in New York, describes them as "the quintessential husband-wife pairing."

Dornenburg and Page may be atypically talented but, like other true foodies, they are generous. "They're true enthusiasts," Chang says. "They're not looking for everyone to fail. They want everyone to succeed."

That's a typical industry perspective, but Dornenburg and Page's generosity doesn't stop at the cellar or kitchen door. To celebrate the two-fold anniversary, they sent their friends copies of a later book, What to Drink With What You Eat - and, because a pairing book is useless without something to pair, a few bottles of Washington State wine. Here's Chang's succinct review of What to Drink With What You Eat: "genius."

whattodrinknewcoverdepix.jpeg Don't look for the snob factor - not in conversation with Dornenburg and Page, not in their books, (seriously: What to Drink with What You Eat includes ginger ale as a pairing) and not in the bottles. Oh, sure, the writers can go high-end, but we're in a recession here. Let's keep it real - and affordable.

There are worse things to do than pour a glass of wine and pore through this book. As you might guess from the title, there's a "What to Drink with What You Eat" section.

Here's fare for the Washington wines:

Chateau Ste Michelle Eroica Riesling 2008 ($21.99 at Binny's) serves well as an aperitif. It also goes with apricots, artichokes and asparagus. One letter into the alphabet, and the choices are broad. Riesling migrates across consonants and vowels. In a world written by Page and Dornenburg, everything does.

They offer different approaches. Another chapter is "What to Eat with What You Drink." Break out Chateau Ste Michelle Indian Wells Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 ($11.99 at Binny's) with basil, bay, beef, braised dishes, dark chocolate, black currants, duck, pork, rabbit, rosemary . . . variety is the spice of wine.

Champagnes and sparkling wines beg for celebration. (There's something about that "pop.") Drink Domaine Ste Michelle Blanc de Blancs Methode Champenoise ($10.99 at Binny's) with caviar or oysters, or with Asian food, gougeres, pasta or - good news - dessert. Brunch is in the lineup. Sleep in and have a lazy breakfast in bed. That's a good enough reason to pop the cork.

Twelve wines to keep at home, after the jump

I missed the first two years of Chicago Gourmet (year 1: maternity leave, year 2: vacation, if you must know), so I can't make comparisons between this year's fest, which ended Sunday in Millenium Park, and past seasons.

And I don't care to make the comparison, as others have, to this being the real Taste of Chicago. (Isn't that an insult to the Eli's Cheesecakes and Robinson No. 1 Ribs of the world who've been around for decades and, year in and year out, cater to the masses in Grant Park?)

Nope. Chicago Gourmet stands on its own, in beautiful Millenium Park, as a wine and food festival (emphasis on wine; more on that later) for the gourmands in all -- make that, some -- of us. At $150 a pop, this is not a fest for everyone, and the crowds that strolled the grounds could best be described as well-heeled.

This year, the festival, conceived and organized by the Illinois Restaurant Association, had an big, bold sponsor next to its name -- Bon Appetit magazine -- which added a certain degree of cachet. And attendance this year, organizers say, was up 25 percent to about 10,000 attendees -- which was very clear to those hoping to actually eat something.

There is an incredible amount to see and drink and attempt to eat at Chicago Gourmet. In addition to straight-out tastings, there were food and wine seminars, cooking demos on different stages and book signings. It can be overwhelming, for the eaters as well as the chefs. There were even more chefs added to this year's lineup, to balance out what in the past had been described as a major wine-to-food imbalance, but even if you were a newbie, like me, things still felt a tad askew.

Standing behind his station in one of the tasting pavilions, Urbanbelly/Belly Shack chef Bill Kim looked out at a line that stretched further than he could see -- a line I'd fell into for the tail end of one tasting session, and immediately re-joined for the next session, a strategy which, it turns out, wasn't so original -- and let out a bemused gasp. "Whew. That's a line," he told me. Kim said he'd limited himself just to cooking under this one tasting pavilion this year. "It's too crazy" to do more, he said.

For those who moved through this particular line, under this particular pavilion, it was a good little moment: five dishes from five restaurants (Kim's Urbanbelly, plus Arun's, Le Colonial, Boka and Japonais), right in a row. Arun Sampanthavivat smiling at you as he hands you a plate of satay and cucumber salad -- not bad. But you could only hold so many little plates, and so many of us in line resorted to wolfing down what we could as we moved through. And then, your moment was over.

A friend described the scene under another pavilion as more chaotic, in that there wasn't one continuous line, but rather several separate ones, and it was difficult to see which chef and restaurant you were getting in line for.

If there's a solution to line management at Chicago Gourmet, I don't know it. Lines are inevitable anytime you get thousands of people in one venue. The attitude to take here: Resign yourself to the fact that you're going to miss out on some things. Chicago Gourmet is about Chicago's vibrant culinary scene happening right now and the people shaping it (with some out-of-town celebs thrown in to impress the easily impressed), and getting a taste of all of that under one Frank Gehry-fied "roof."

Another moment: The line at one of the two dessert tents stalled for a bit, as Eddie Lakin of Edzo's Burger Shop hurried to pour shots of his now-signature Nutella shakes. As I got closer, I saw what the hold-up was: a young woman just chatting up Lakin about his hard-working vintage Multimixer machine. He was laughing and waved a goodbye as he handed her a shake, and then she was off and the line was moving again. We all got our shakes.

Finally: It is very easy to get sloshed at Chicago Gourmet. No lines there.

by guest blogger and New York writer Seanan Forbes


On the last day of New York Fashion Week, Naeem Khan and his wife Ranjana Khan (he designs clothing; she, jewelry) collaborated on a show that was art in motion.

In elegant pop-up lounges, attention went to art of a different kind: wine provided by a Fashion Week sponsor, Sherry-Lehmann Wines and Spirits.

The story begins last century. Phillipe de Rothschild, owner of Château de Mouton Rothschild, was in the habit of asking one renowned artist a year to design a label. (Baron Rothschild's daughter, Philippine, continues the tradition.)

"In 1975, he chose Warhol to design the label for the '75 Mouton," he says. Adams leans forward, his voice sparkling like wine. "When the wine came into Sherry-Lehmann, in the summer of '79, he came into the store ... We had the big bottles - the double mags, the imperials - on display, and he said, 'Hey! Can I sign? Can I sign these?'"

According to CEO Chris Adams, 2010 isn't Sherry-Lehmann's first year near the catwalk. The relationship began a few years ago. "It is a scale at which we don't operate," Adams observes, but "[Fashion Week] is a New York institution, something that's been around for a while ... We think of ourselves as a New York institution. It is a pretty good match."

Sherry-Lehmann's been selling wine for 76 years. New York Fashion Week has strutted its stuff, under one name or another (it started as Press Week) since 1943. Paris was under Nazi occupation. Holding Fashion Week in New York diverted attention from Paris and gave people a welcome, if brief, distraction from the grimness of the war.

Now, there are fashion weeks in New York, London, Milan and Paris - but make no mistake; the French have a foothold in Manhattan's off-stage bars. Adams is especially buzzed about one of this year's bottles. Sherry-Lehmann provided "a slew of wines" (the full list is below), "but this week has been about the Warhol Dom Perignon."

There's a direct connection. "Andy was a client, but he was also part of our marketing strategy." That's not something every liquor store can claim.

The story begins last century. Phillipe de Rothschild, owner of Château de Mouton Rothschild, was in the habit of asking one renowned artist a year to design a label. (Baron Rothschild's daughter, Philippine, continues the tradition.)

"In 1975, he chose Warhol to design the label for the '75 Mouton," he says. Adams leans forward, his voice sparkling like wine. "When the wine came into Sherry-Lehmann, in the summer of '79, he came into the store ... We had the big bottles - the double mags, the imperials - on display, and he said, 'Hey! Can I sign? Can I sign these?'"


By guest blogger Seanan Forbes

With the temperatures dropping and the evenings growing cool, red wines are looking increasingly attractive. It's not quite Burgundy weather -- sweaters, but not coats -- just about right for Pinot Noir.

There are some interesting Pinots in New Zealand. That's a long distance - in miles or time zones - for a conversation. When Felton Road's Blair Walter crossed hemispheres to discuss wine in New York's Sherry-Lehmann en route to flash trips through Denver and other cities -- might as well hit 'em all while you're here -- he came within conversing distance.

Walter is a winemaker, and he exhibits the dedication and passion that goes with that job -- along with a sense of humor. He describes their older Pinot Noir as "muscular" and "brawny," as if it were Heathcliff in a bottle. For the past few years, he's been steering the Pinot Noir in a gentler, lighter direction (less dramatic character brooding in a storm; more metrosexual contemplating where to go for dinner).

The winery is in a region with a cool climate, making it ideal for Pinot Noir. That's the bulk of their growth. Felton Road grows approximately 10 percent Riesling, 20 percent Chardonnay and 70 percent Pinot Noir. "It's far too cool for us to ripen any other red variety," Walter says.

Where taste is concerned, Walter gets a fair variety from Pinot Noir. Felton Road Bannockburn is a blend of three properties; like any good blend, it's easy and consistent. Walter describes it as "our starting wine." Calvert and Cornish Point are exemplars of their regions; they make bolder statements -- but remain subtler than the older bottles. The 2004 Felton Road Pinot Noir Block 3 is rich and complex, with flavors balancing across the tongue. The 2006 is heading in that direction, presenting a tough choice between "drink" and "save."

The grapes come from clean ground; Felton Road is a far stretch from anything resembling a city. Walter chuckles. "It's a three-hour drive for me to see the nearest traffic light," he says. The winery proudly sports organic and biodynamic certification. They grow cover crops to help with the soil. Helping with land-care are goats and chickens, some of which end up on the table (and with the wine, which is food-friendly stuff). Long-haired highland cows are soon to come.

Buy a bottle (easily done at Pantheon Wine Shoppe in Northbrook, and you support people who care about wine and land. Even Heathcliff could get behind that.

by guest blogger Seanan Forbes

"If I were going to be an inanimate object," Francisco Guedes says, "then this is what I'd want to be." As he speaks, he indicates a bottle of Aveleda Casal Garcia.

Given Guedes' ebullient energy, it's hard to imagine him as anything inanimate, but it's easy to understand his choice. Casal Garcia Vinho Verde Branco is a lively wine. Its taste shoulders the edge of sparkling; it's that kind of bright. Casal Garcia - NV.jpg

Guedes is Aveleda's brand ambassador, but he's also a member of the family. That doesn't mean he's biased; it means he's a little bit in love. Clearly, though, this is a household where affection doesn't outweigh a desire for perfection. Any wine that's going to represent Aveleda is going be good - and any wine that makes a Guedes dream of being inanimate is going to be exceptional.

In Portuguese, "vinho verde" means "green wine" and the wine does have a pale green tint. The region where it comes from is lush.

"It's almost like Ireland," says Leslie Sbrocco, author, wine expert and founder of Thirsty Girl. The name, then, is a reflection of both terrain and wine - but, Sbrocco says, "It really is about the freshness and brightness that the wine has."

Those characteristics might be unexpected. For many people, the standard equation is Portugal plus wine equals port: thick, rich dessert wine that spins dreams of cheese plates.

The assumption is understandable. As Sbrocco observes, "Portugal is a very small country." It's easy to presume that a small place has only one style. Portuguese cuisine varies from region to region, however, and so does the wine.

"Vinho Verde is not far from where Port originates," Sbrocco says. "Even though they're close geographically, they couldn't be farther apart on the wine scale."

Port's perfect for autumn; Vinho Verde is made for summer. It cries for salads, grilled shellfish or ceviche. Rick Bayless makes an all-but-revered ceviche. The recipe's adaptable enough to let the market lead.

Whose Vinho Verde should you try? Go for that bottle of irresistible brightness. "Aveleda's an iconic producer in the Vinho Verde region," Sbrocco says. "Talk about a perfect warm-weather wine: That's it. Poolside or beachside, that's the wine that I would grab."

Ceviche recipe after the jump.

by guest blogger and New York writer Seanan Forbes

If the World Cup is leaving you hooked on South Africa, then you might want to keep a little bit of the country around -- in your glass.

As South African vintners will tell you, their vines are planted in very old soil. They're rewinding continental drift, looking at the first supercontinent, 100 million years ago. That's land with heritage. It's getting recognition from the far side the world.

"It's been quite humbling," says Lowell Jooste of Klein Constantia, near Cape Town, "to be selected by the French government ... as one of the nine mythical vineyards of the world." Nobody would claim that the French don't know wine.

The most widely planted grape varietal in South Africa is Chenin Blanc. Mulderbosch Chenin Blanc's on the soft side of dry, with notes of pineapple, lychee, citrus and spice - perfect with fish or salad.  466_medium.jpg

Look to South Africa for Sauvignon Blanc, as well - and Pinotage (at right), a cross between Pinot Noir and Cinsault, is on the rise. Simonsig Pinotage, from the Stellenbosch region, is rich and dark, with deep plum and raspberry flavors. It's a wine begging for a grillside table.

If wine's not your thing, then there's a South African cream liqueur that's hooked more than one traveler: Amarula. Marula is a South African fruit; when it's fermented by the sun, it turns into pickable booze for passing animals. The liqueur's made from ripe - but not sun-fermented - fruit. The fruit's made into wine - don't worry - distilled in column stills and copper pots.

At that point, it's a marula spirit. That's aged for two years in oak barrels, after which it's mixed with cream. It tastes fruity and nutty, with more than a bit of caramel. It's on the sweet side - but, then, it is a cream liqueur. Pour it over ice. If it can cool a South African summer night, then Chicago should present no challenge at all.

Simonsig, Mulderbosch and Amarula can be bought at Binny's.  For Klein Constantia, go to the Chicago Wine Company

by guest blogger and New York writer Seanan Forbes

If Lyle Allen, executive director of the Green City Market is on an asparagus binge, then you can't blame him. Allen knows that fresh asparagus will be in the market "maybe two weeks if we're lucky." The time to enjoy it is now.

The question of what to enjoy it with is rather more complex.

New York City's Eleven Madison Park has garnered a few awards, one of them a James Beard Foundation Award for outstanding wine service. Before New York gets too cocky about that, it should be noted that wine director John Ragan grew up in Kansas City and Chicago. ("Everybody's from Chicago," he says.)

Eleven Madison's chef, Daniel Humm - another Beard winner - creates a seasonally driven menu. For the average wine lover, that might create occasional problems. Consider asparagus and wine. As Ragan observes, "Everybody says it just doesn't work."

Most of us could simply opt out - not Ragan. He can't say, "Well, chef, you know, they say . . . the wine thing . . . Do you think it's possible that maybe we just don't use that?"

As Ragan's figured out how to pair the impossible vegetable with more than passable wine, it seems only sensible to take his advice and run to Binny's, Fine Wine Brokers, Just Grapes or wherever pleasure or pattern takes you.

What should you buy once you're there?

It depends on how you're preparing the asparagus. Are you serving asparagus alongside a slab of grass-fed beef? Is it chilling with a few curls of Parmigiano-Reggiano? These things make a difference. mayasparagus.jpg

Forget the myth. "Asparagus itself does go with certain wines," Ragan says. "It does have a smaller window of what it likes. It's not roast chicken. It's not a steak. So what do you do?"

While you're forgetting the myth, you should also set aside some habits. If you like Cabernet with your steak, and you pile asparagus on the dish, then your beautiful Cabernet may not taste so lovely any more. "The things that asparagus isn't so friendly with are things that a lot of people are comfortable with," Ragan says. "Asparagus and woody Chardonnay: no good. Asparagus and tannic reds: no good. Asparagus and reds that have a lot of wood on them: no good."

You can't think of wine first and then add the asparagus. Start with the food. Ragan dislikes the dictatorial "You should drink this." What could you drink with asparagus? "Crisp, minerally, very aromatic whites . . . A dry, sherry-type wine - asparagus with butter and a glass of Fino or Manzanilla Sherry is fantastic."

For simplicity's sake, Ragan offers three green possibilities to consider: rich and earthy (say, with an egg and morels), salad (perhaps tossed with grapefruit segments) and herbal (with peas and a fresh, minty dressing).

With an earthy dish, consider a Grüner Veltiner. Grüner's oily texture works with richer dishes, but it also has notes of white pepper and dried herbs that mirror asparagus. "That's one of those pairings where you say, 'Ah, these two similar things work well together.'"

For salads, think about a Sylvaner from Alsace, with its honeyed nature and distinct fruit "A dry wine," Ragan says, "but pushing toward that off-dry edge . . . That Sylvaner, Muscat, Alsatian thing is so good and so classic with asparagus. That would be a whole other camp of wines that people should think of when they think 'asparagus and wine don't go together.'"

Herbal dishes. "It's important not to do Sauvignon Blanc that's got a bunch of oak on it, but a really classic, clean, crisp, transparent style of Sauvignon Blanc - Sancerre, Pouilly Fume, something like that. Sancerre has that herbaceous, grassy thing going on." A fresh salad with asparagus will bring out the best in the wine - a winning partnership.

At Green City Market, Mick Klug Farm, Ellis Family Farm, Nichols Farm and 1st Orchard have asparagus. Get it while it's fresh, choose your flavor profile, buy a bottle of wine and raise a glass to springtime.

After writing about holiday beer, and booze-soaked truffles in recent weeks, I offer this storied nightcap that tells a story not only about mulled wine -- known as glogg -- but about Swedish culture and how it echoes in one North Side community.

The frugal wine drinkers

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So how do you cope with an economy that is still quite a ways away from a real rebound and a job market that's also in the toilet? Well, you certainly don't stop drinking; you just drink cheaper booze.

That's what's happening with wine, at least, according to an AP story that was in Friday's Sun-Times.

"More wine could be consumed globally this year, thanks to crisis-fueled demand for cheaper or discounted tipples, particularly in the United States," the story said. ("Tipples" is late 15-century in origin, and is another word for a drink, in case you are unfamiliar with it, as I was.). The U.S., in fact, is second only to France in total consumption of wine.

Federico Castellucci, of the International Organization of Vine and Wine, told the AP that "people who want to keep drinking are buying cheaper wines," such as Charles Shaw, aka "Two-Buck Chuck." But today's cheap wines aren't your father's or grandfather's cheap wines. Because of improved technology, today's cheaper wines are much more palatable than they were 20 years ago, Castellucci said.

And while he warns of the harm winemakers could do to their marketplace if they discount too much, Castellucci ardently believes that the industry should nurture novice wine drinkers and those who have not grown up with a wine culture, because soon enough they'll be looking to spend more than $3 on a bottle of wine.

"In classical music, you don't start with Wagner, you start with Boccherini," he said, referring to the 18th-century Italian composer and cellist. "It's the same with wine. We start with very simple, gentle wines, after they go up in scale."

That's a fine was of expressing the challenge that's in front of winemakers and the evolution of a wine drinker, but could anyone really look forward to drinking the equivalent of a five-hour opera?

Wednesday Wines: Hugel call

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By guest blogger and New York writer Seanan Forbes

Watching former Chicagoan Belinda Chang taste wine for the Modern in New York is a little bit like watching a fencing match when you don't know a sword from a shovel - even if you do know a glass from a grape.

Chang processes information and makes decisions while anybody else would still be assimilating the flavor of a wine. It's not a small responsibility. In a major restaurant, we're talking tens of cases: not small change.

This is definitely the Olympics, and not a college fencing team. The houses that court Chang's attention are the top ones in the world. Their wines set the standards for elegance and quality.

To call Hugel a firm that produces some fine wines is to call Barack Obama a politician who makes some tough decisions. Head to Hugel's Web site and you'll note that the timeline starts in 1639. That's job experience.

Jean Frederic Hugel looks like an undergraduate student and speaks of wine with knowledge and fervor, as if 370 years of winemaking were cellared in his brain.

In the course of fifteen minutes, Hugel pours eight glasses for Chang: Pinot Blanc Cuvée les Amours 2006, Gentil 2007, Riesling 2007, Riesling Jubile 2007, Muscat 2005, Gewürztraminer 2007, Pinot Gris Homage a Jean Hugel 1998 and Gewürztraminer Vendage Tardive 2001. Along with the wine come adjectives, suggestions and an occasional note about history or production.

Pouring Pinot Blanc, Hugel remarks, "The wine is never in contact with the wood. Every ten years, we go into the barrels and clean them."

Those are some big barrels.

About the blog

Janet Rausa Fuller

Sun-Times Food editor Janet Rausa Fuller is always thinking about her next meal.



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