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.

Posted in Running, Travel, Wine | Leave a comment

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.

Posted in Family, Retail, Wine | 1 Comment

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

Posted in Family, Sports, Update, Wine | Leave a comment

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.
Posted in Reviews, Wine | Leave a comment

Grape of the Month: Pinot Noir

I’m often asked what my favorite kind of wine is.  My answer, like most wine enthusiasts I know, is “I don’t have a favorite.”  I think of wines like parents think of children– you love them all equally, just in different ways.  One might be pretty, one might be the funniest, one is usually the smartest, one is artistic and so on.  Obviously my family is not a good example since I am all of the above.  But typically, good parents give equal affection to all.  And so, I love all my grapes.  One is soft and elegant, one is loud and flashy; one is best with certain foods, one is perfect for sipping by the fireplace.  They’re all wonderful; I don’t play favorites.

But if I were stranded on a deserted island with one bottle of wine, it would have to be an elegant, refined, exceptional Pinot Noir.

Pinot is the great king of Burgundy, where it has thrived for hundreds of years.  From the heralded vineyards in the southern part of the Côte de Nuits come the most elegant, complex and wonderful wines of this type, and arguably the best wines in all of France and perhaps the whole winemaking world.  But alas, these wines are not cheap; in superior vintages the top Burgundies sell at auction for thousands of dollars a bottle.

So, as usual, we turn to the good old US of A to provide us with some reasonably priced but quality wines.  California cornered the market on pinot for quite some time in this country.  From Mendocino all the way to Santa Barbara, this grape has earned a stellar reputation for fruit forward, wonderfully approachable wines.  Some of these may not be wines of amazing structure, especially around Monterey and along the coast; but they are affordable and universally appealing.  Many California pinots, however have earned extremely high praise from enthusiasts all over the world, including the folks at Wine Spectator who named Kosta Brown Pinot 2009 the best wine of 2011.  So Cali gets most of the attention, as usual.  But recently the success of pinot noir from Oregon has oenophiles’ heads spinning.  In Willammette Valley especially we’re finding intriguing wines of amazing depth and complexity that, some argue, rival even the great Bourgogne.  Critics have heralded 2008 Oregon’s best vintage thus far and it appears it’s only getting better.

In Germany, pinot is called spatburgunder.  In my experience, these aren’t typically wines of great distinction, but are interesting and quite approachable.  Pinot is one of the parents of South Africa’s hybrid pinotage, which is gaining some momentum here due to a rise in quality imports.  We’ve also recently discovered some pinot from New Zealand that is worthy of praise.  At quick glance, then, it seems pinot noir can grow almost anywhere.  But the best environment for pinot involves warm days, cool evenings, lots of fog and a great deal of talent and patience in the vineyards.

Now, with this finicky grape, you really get what you pay for.  If you spend ten bucks on pinot, expect a light, fruity wine reminiscent of Kool-Aid at best, cough medicine at worst.  If you spend a bit more, you earn a little depth and complexity.  One you cross the twenty-five dollar threshold, there is a dramatic improvement.  It’s an unfortunate but very real part of life with this spectacular but variable grape.

Pinot Noir

It’s also important to note: this grape is probably the truest expression of terroir.  That is, these wines are completely different depending on from where they came.  In northern California, look for mostly fruit forward, elegant wines with soft, silky tannins.  In central and southern Cali pinot is heftier, more robust, spicy and even sometimes a bit sweet.  In Oregon, pinot is more delicate and subtle, driven by earth tones and hints of tea leaf and truffle.  New Zealand’s versions are known for their minerality and high acidity.  In France, all the best components come together to create wines of amazing depth and distinction.

Pinot is probably a sommelier’s favorite grape as it is the most versatile wine for pairing with food.  Its low tannins, high acidity, and elegant balance make it the perfect match for many cuisines.  Its best counterparts include meatier seafoods like swordfish or salmon, pasta, duck, and of course, anything with mushrooms.


  • $10-15: Angeline, Cartledge & Brown, Gunther Schlink, Oyster Bay
  • $15-30: Saint Gregory, Byron, Melville, Maysara, Coopers Creek, Sineann, Luca, Capiaux Cellars, Cashburn
  • $30-60: Merry Edwards, Louis Jadot Beaune Clos du Ursules, Ata Rangi, Domaine Serene Evenstad, Patz & Hall Hyde Vineyard, Loring Clos Pepe
  • $60-100: Domaine Louis Latour Corton Grancey, Domaine Faiveley Gevrey Chambertin, Kosta Browne, Martinelli
  • Before you die: Domaine Romanée-Conti
Posted in Food, Reviews, Wine, Wine Sales | Leave a comment

Dear Customer Part 13

Dear Customer,
I get that you want sweet wine that tastes like Welch’s. And I understand you don’t care. At all. But seriously. Asking me which of Barefoot or Yellow Tail Moscato is better is like asking a butcher who deals with prime cuts of beef from grass fed cows which can of spam you should buy.

Posted in Retail, Wine, Wine Sales | Leave a comment

I’m Not a Snob

I’m not a “wine snob.” People who prefer attending major league baseball games aren’t sports snobs. Those who settle in with Tom Clancy or a classic Mark Twain aren’t considered book snobs. Seeing a show on Broadway does not make a person a theatre snob. An individual who is more inclined to gaze in amazement at a Monet rather than a child’s fingerpainting is not an art snob. These are all hobbies that require a similar appreciation for their respective crafts, as well as an understanding that the better quality items inevitably have bigger price tags. A wine enthusiast, then, hardly deserves the judgmental label we have been subjected to.

I appreciate wine of all kinds, from the humble table wines of Tuscany to the extravagant Chateaux of Bordeaux; from New Zealand’s racy sauvignon blanc to delicate pinot noir from the Russian River Valley; from a juicy grenache from the hills of Spain to Dom Perignon and absolutely everything in between. And yes, sometimes I am willing to pay more for a more unique or prestigious bottle. But these extravagant occasions are rare, and I deserve a luxury every now and then the same as any hobbyist. Mostly I enjoy the experience of an exceptional bottle of wine, regardless of its price or origins. Do I generally enjoy a fifteen dollar wine more than a four dollar one? Yes. Because it tastes better. Given the choice between USDA choice ground beef or a prime bone-in filet mignon, I would likewise choose the latter, even if it means spending more. It tastes better. I also prefer Cold Stone to Dairy Queen, freshly ground Columbian coffee to stale generic, Sashimi grade tuna to a can of Chicken of the Sea, as well as my dad’s homemade lasagna to Chef Boyardee. It’s not because it costs more. It just tastes better.

I resent hearing degrading comments from those who are unappreciative of wine as an art form. I hear them all the time. I am no more a snob than the gentleman who spends 60k on a luxury vehicle or the young lady that carries a four-hundred dollar purse. That man gets to work every day safely, the same as I do. But his car is more comfortable than mine and has hands-free bluetooth capabilities. And as far as I’m concerned, the woman’s designer purse holds her wallet and makeup just as well as a cheap vinyl bag from Target. But she likes the way it looks, its prestige gives her confidence and the color compliments her shoes. So I don’t judge them; I don’t call her a purse snob. They are entitled to spend their hard earned money on something they value and appreciate. Why am I not entitled to the same?

Posted in Food, Wine | 2 Comments