Grape of the Month: Torrontes

Anytime a female shopper asks me to recommend a good summer white, I immediately think of Torrontes.  “If you took pinot grigio,” I always say, “dressed it up, and took it out on a Saturday night, it would taste like this.” The men never seem to understand, although they always buy one for the woman in their lives.  I hate to be sexist this way; but this wine screams femininity.  It is playful but delicate; zesty but elegant; fun, fruity and full of flair.

Torrontes has become Argentina’s signature white grape.  The best versions come from higher altitude vineyards in Salta. The vine’s ancestry is still under scrutiny; but most scholars are certain it is related to the aromatic Muscat of Alexandria, and possibly descended from Malvasia.  But Argentina can claim it as their own, as it appears only Chile has wide plantings of it, which they really only use for the spirit known as Pisco.

Torrontes Vines in Argentina

This wine is gaining momentum in a hurry.  Its increasing interest on the market is comparable to the rise in popularity of shiraz in Australia, or perhaps malbec in Mendoza. Retailers and sommeliers alike love this sort of wine, as it’s a wonderful sipper but also quite versatile with food.  I would pair these wines with salads, Indian or Thai, and any lighter fish. The best news is these wines are remarkably affordable, so it’s easy to stock up for the whole summer.

Gouguenheim Torrontes

Sight: Pale yellow-green, with bright intensity. Typically youthful, with little viscosity or legs, and a consistent rim.
Smell: Wow. Pronounced, tropical fruit, citrus, apples, and a flower bed in summertime.
Taste: Light-Medium bodied, zippy but not aggressive acidity. Peach, lime, green apple, slight burst of minerality. Falls right in the middle of the ever popular “not too dry, not too sweet” category.

Favorites: Colome, Domingo Molina Hermanos, Gouguenheim

 

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Bordeaux 2016 En Primeur Part 1

Everywhere we go, people are talking about the luck of 2016. Rain in the spring was worrysome. Drought and warmth in the summer months provided ripeness, but many feared alcohol levels would skyrocket. In September it rained and cooled off just enough to complete harvest with average yields. What resulted was a magical vintage. Some say it’s 2009 and 2010 combined. And it makes sense: with ripeness of fruit, subtle freshness, and tannins to support ageing, all the components are in place and many wines are exceptional.

We attended the UGCB tasting in Bordeaux on Monday. There are clear winners from Pesaac Leognan, Margaux, and St Emilion, but there are also hidden gems from St. Julien and Sauternes. It’s challenging to find three individual palates in agreement. Each of us prefers a slightly different blend or style. But some of the universal favorites from this vast tasting include: Les Carmes de Haut Brion, Lagrange, Canon la Gaffiliere, Prierre Lichine, Guiraud, and Giscours, as well as the classic blanc from Pape Clement.

Monday afternoon brought us to properties in St. Emilion and Pomerol. There were some standouts, certainly; but it’s enlightening to taste so many wines from the same area with such different characteristics. Highlights here were at Chateau le Gay, Conseillante, and Grand Corbin Despagne. Those looking for value will want to seek out Montlabert, Bellevue, and Fugue de Nenin.

On Tuesday we return to St Emilion. I’ve been dreaming of visiting Ausone and Cheval Blanc my whole wine life. It’s like Christmas Eve. I am so excited to see and taste what’s coming.
Cheers!

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Happy 40th!

Birth year treats are very special. Milestone birth years are even better.

This gorgeous glass had notes of honey, dried apricot, fig, walnuts, and brown sugar. Soft, creamy, with just the right spark of acidity on the finish. It went on for minutes. What’s most impressive is- unlike me- it will live forever thanks to a unique style of production and aging.

1976 Blandy’s

I believe it was Thomas Jefferson who said, “Madiera is the freaking bomb.”

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A Proper Celebration

Jackson Square Rock n Roll Nola, 2016

Jackson Square
Rock n Roll Nola, 2016


Sea Spray“THAT is how you celebrate a marathon,” I said, while strolling leisurely down Tchoupitoulas. I then texted my colleague a picture of the prettiest bubbles I’ve ever seen. My exhausted but proud and inspired description read “It’s like dancing a waltz in a lilac field on a plush carpet of fresh raspberries, while wearing a cape made of lemon custard and vanilla, all by the soft light of ocean breeze and dreamsicle scented candles.”
Sea Spray

This beautiful sparkling wine was the 2012 cleverly titled Sea Spray- a Blanc de Noirs from Sea Smoke. This all pinot stunner from one of California’s elite producers easily ranks among the best sparkling wines I’ve ever had, and for only half the price of a fine Champagne of this caliber.

Treat yourself. Marathon in New Orleans optional.

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Wine and Friendship

“Pinot Noir sucks,” he said.
“Wow. How dare you,” I said. “Get out of my store,” I said, pointing toward the exit door.

This was one of the first exchanges between Kris and me. What followed was over two years’ worth of fun, friendly banter, fueled by a mutual sense of humor and my desire to change his mind about Pinot Noir.
Kris and his wife Connie became regular customers of mine. It was only a couple trips before he walked into the store, and sheepishly admitted he had been wrong about Pinot. Belle Glos did the trick. “I knew it!” I had said, beaming. I revelled in being right, as usual, and we became fast friends. We talked about wine, spirits, family, sports, hobbies, and neighborhoods. I helped them shop for several parties and nearly every holiday. Their smiles and conversations always brightened my day and I like to think I did the same for them.
Over time, Connie and Kris learned to trust me infallibly with wine choices. I remember the first time I forced dry rosé on them, skeptics to the core. Like most, they became converts immediately. We frequently chatted about vodkas and licqueurs, too. In December, they saw my eyes light up when Kris mentioned his homemade amaretto. I mentioned casually it was my favorite after dinner drink. Sure enough, just before Christmas he delivered a bottle for me, which comforted me on many a cold evening. It was one of the better, most thoughtful gifts I have received in recent memory. I can still smell and taste that delicious almondy goodness. Later that winter, the family came in shopping and regaled several interesting tales of their son’s 21st birthday party in Vegas. Needless to say I got to know him, too. I remember one instance they all caught me with my coat on, preparing to leave for the day. I apologized that I had to run out and introduced them to a colleague who could assist them. Somehow, instead, thirty minutes later their cart was full and my belly ached from laughter. Helping Kris and Connie shop never felt like work, and since I transferred locations, they are among the folks I have missed the most.
Shortly after that visit, I learned that Kris had passed away suddenly. When I stopped at his wake to give Connie and the kids my condolences, I was starkly reminded that life is short and opportunities for friendships don’t come around often. I meet thousands of people a year, and I try to help them all; but only a special few let me into their lives such as they had. I miss Kris immensely, not just for his delicious homemade liqueurs, but also his jokes, his way of putting people at ease, his demonstrative, genuine love for his family. He was a great man. To say we were close would be an exaggeration; but he made an impression on me that will last a lifetime.

RIP Kris Zak. 1966-2012.

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Catching Up

I’m not quite sure where to start. So much has happened since my last post. Here are some highlights, in chronological order: I adopted and fell in love with a dog. This wonderful creature had two surgeries and close to twenty rehab visits in her first year with us. More on this later. I got a promotion. With this well-earned feat came a transfer to a location nearly thirty miles from home. Not surprisingly, I bought a new, more fuel efficient vehicle. I grew hundreds of tomatoes, cukes, and peppers in my organic garden paradise. I grew my cute little pixie haircut out and as a result wear my hair in a ponytail most days. My beloved Blackhawks won another Cup. I watched the entire series of The West Wing, Game of Thrones, and Sons of Anarchy. My husband got a fantastic new job. I hosted Thanksgiving. It snowed 56 inches so far this winter.
Other interesting events since my last post:

Continue reading

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Thoughts on 2009 Bordeaux

Alongside swarms of other rabid oenophiles, I recently attended the Union des Grands Crus de Bordeaux tasting in Chicago.  In general, I was blown away by the quality of wines in this vintage.  With few exceptions, these wines were bold, expressive and really remarkable.  Certainly worth the hype they’ve received.  The biggest surprise is how approachable many already are.
For those who don’t typically explore wines from Bordeaux, this is the vintage to do so, especially from St Emilion and Pomerol.  Many of these could pass for their new world counterparts.  For those with more “classic” Bordeaux tastes, there are limitless choices for you as well, although arguably better (albeit pricier) are coming in 2010.
I’ve ranked my top ten from the tasting.  Please keep in mind, this is a subjective list.  These aren’t necessarily the “best” of the day, nor the most expensive.  These are simply the ones with which I was most smitten.
Please feel free to share any thoughts, observations or questions.
Honorable Mentions:

Larrivet Haut Brion Blanc, Pessac Leognan
Canon la Gaffeliere, St Emilion
La Tour Carnet, Haut Medoc
Cantenac Brown, Margaux
Doisy Daene, Sauternes
10. Troplong Mondot, St Emilion
A beautiful, elegant St Emilion. From a strictly enjoyment perspective I would rank this higher; but my major complaint is the price tag. I just didn’t consider this wine twice as good as others in its category.
9. Cantemerle, Haut Medoc
Driven by merlot, the blend works well with the ripeness of the vintage. I loved the body and mouthfeel of this wine. Impressive but not intimidating. A little heat on the finish should dissipate over time.
8. Leoville Barton, St Julien
This was beautifully crafted, with amazing depth and a very muscular structure. Definitely built for the long haul, with potential for decades of evolution. My only complaint is the very big, hefty tannins which will give way with time, leading to a wine with incredible substance and nuance. For those with extreme patience.
 7. Lascombes, Margaux
Always an intense, impressive wine, this vintage is no exception and its name was on everyone’s lips that afternoon. Massive, inky, almost aggressively tannic, with concentrated currant, blueberry, toasty vanilla and hints of earthy truffle. Superb potential but I wouldn’t touch it for at least 8 years.
6. Suduiraut, Sauternes
Wonderfully frangrant. Superconcentrated with fresh peach, apricot and lemon curd with hints of caramel and honey. Enough acidity to keep it honest. Intrigued by cellar potential but gorgeous now.
5. Lafon Rochet, St Estephe
Critics throw around the phrase “sleeper of the vintage” a lot these days, but this is definitely mine for 2009. I loved this classy, expansive St Estephe. Black currants, spice, hints of tea leaf? Impeccably balanced, fascinating and an amazing value.
4. Armilhac, Pauillac

This emobdied everything great Bordeaux should be. My notes merely read “……..” A hefty, distinctive body with impressive length and everything in place. Should evolve quite nicely but already surprisingly approachable.

3. Smith Haut Lafite, Pessac Leognan

I was remarkably surprised here. Usually Graves and Pessac are too earthy and too taut for me; but this wine was round, approachable, subtle and texturally flawless. Intensely concentrated flavors of black fruits, licorice and charcoal.  It shared a table with Pape Clement and beat it, easily.  This could be the perfect wine for those with more classic Bordeaux palates.
2. Pavie Macquin, St Emilion
Here I believe I found Nirvana. Initially I was overwhelmed by vanilla, but with patient swirling and a revisit later, I encountered amazing fruit, with luxurious, thick cassis intermingled with hints of foliage, charcoal and the signature St Emilion pencil lead. Others made a case that this wine was “overripe” or “too modern” but I found it absolutely delicious, with the perfect balance of fruit, structure and elegance. This is what I am looking for in a great Right Bank. I wanted this to be my favorite but it was very slightly edged out……
1. Clinet, Pomerol
For me this was the most expressive, most beautiful wine of the day. I found it surprisingly soft and silky for its youth. Gobs of plum, with layers upon layers of lush black fruits, fig and espresso. Very voluptuous and forward- almost flamboyant- but still incredibly elegant, with a finish that is still lingering a month later. Truly remarkable. It’s hard to imagine wine ever getting much beter than this.
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