Dear Customer Part 2

Dear Customer,

I don’t care about your wine collection.  You can list off your bottles until you’re blue in the freaking face.  I’m not impressed.  Honestly.  I really don’t care.  Buy something or get out.

Preconceptions and Apologies

One day last month one of the staff came to me with a bottle of Kendall Jackson chardonnay and said “I haven’t had this in a really long time.  Can we chill it down and taste it?” Doing my best to repress both my gag reflex and my pompous chortle, I said “Sure.  In fact, let’s chill down a few chards and taste them blind.” Thus began the great Memorial Day Blind Tasting Adventure of 2010.

I grabbed three other inexpensive bottles of chardonnay.  I wanted to throw a more expensive ringer in there but didn’t want to overdo it.  So the four contestants were: Lindeman’s Bin 65 (Australia, $4.99,) Hogue (Columbia Valley, $8.99,) and Novellum (vin de pays, $10.99.) I tossed them in the quick chiller, laughing to myself at the inevitable result: One of us would pick KJ over the “better” choices.  Once they were cold I put each in a brown bag and opened it, removing all the foil so the staff wouldn’t cheat.  I had another person mix them up a bit, then I went back and, knowing the wines but not the order, numbered them 1-4.

The three senior wine consultants agreed that none of them was altogether impressive.  But of the bunch, the fourth was the least offensive overall, with the second coming in a very close second.  The first bottle was ok but not special, and the third was just terrible.  We also invited the MOD, the customer service reps and our cigar guy to play along.  Most agreed with the wine staff’s original conclusions.

Kendall Jackson Chardonnay

When I revealed the bottles, a hush fell over us; then a terrified and embarassed scream rose up as we realized we’d chosen the KJ.  How could this happen?! Going back and retasting, desperately hoping to catch a flaw or two, we confirmed that it was indeed the best of the four.  It was driven by fresh apple and pear flavors, with a little spice, nice toasty oak and a gentle refreshing lift at the end.  It was nicely balanced and overall a better than average glass of wine.  The Novellum was the runner-up, with many of the same characteristics but just not enough personality.  Hogue was a distant third because of its lack of flair, and the barely tolerable, apple jolly-rancher infused Lindeman’s was everyone’s least favorite.

So, Jess Jackson, if you’re reading this– I am terribly sorry.  I am sorry I talk shit about your wines all the time.  I am sorry I disrespect your chardonnay.  I am sorry that, even after our experiment, I won’t go out of my way to recommend your products.  I’m sure you’re a nice man; but the thing is, I hate monopolies and you’ve clearly got enough money. But I can promise I will no longer laugh at customers that snatch up cases of your chardonnay when it’s on sale.  It might be one of the better ten dollar options in the chardonnay aisle.

Next time I’m hoping to dethrone the great Santa Margherita but who knows what might happen….

Mt Difficulty 2006 “Roaring Meg” Pinot Noir

Mt Diffuculty Roaring Meg

Until very recently, I’ve never had a pinot from New Zealand that impressed me.  Usually they’re thin, dull and consistently mediocre.  The fruit is underripe, there’s little complexity, and the minerality is dominating and sometimes downright offensive. I dislike this style so much that I find myself avoiding NZ pinots at all costs unless I’m presented with a free bottle or an extraordinary deal.  Such was the case with the 2006 Roaring Meg.

My experience with this wine was enlightening, to say the least.  I was greeted by aromas of bright cherry, herbs and black tea.  These flavors shone as well, combined with dried berries, spice and a splash of ripe strawberry.  Hints of the typical NZ minerality were also there, but were only a small piece of the puzzle.  The complexity was remarkable, and the finish was lingering and delightful.  Blind I surely would have picked it as a well made pinot from Willamette Valley.  Overall I found this wine extremely well balanced, with a round mouthfeel, exciting acidity and a fresh, vibrant finish.

Since I tasted the Roaring Meg I’ve encountered a few other pinots from this region and am fairly confident in saying:  Central Otago has a lot to offer with this grape.  I think there is still a lot of room for improvement, but as the vines age and the techniques improve, the quality of pinot from this area will continue to rise.  However, I urge vintners in Marlborough to stick to sauvignon blanc.  Please.  The climate and soil are much better suited to a less finicky grape.

New Zealand will certainly never eclipse Bourgogne as the king of pinot.  And tho possible, it is unlikely this region will rival the more modern pinots from California and Oregon.  But there are certainly some values to be found from this up and coming region, and it’s an exciting time to begin following the Kiwis to their pinot noir promised land.

Mediterranean Pork Chops

Here’s one of my favorite dishes to cook.  It’s fairly quick & easy and I love to try new wines with this meal.  Try your own and tell me what you think!

  • 2 8-10 oz American cut boneless pork chops
  • 1 link chorizo, diced
  • ¾-1 cup dry red wine (See pairings below)
  • 1/2  cup lemon juice
  • 2 tbsp capers
  • 2 tsp black peppercorns
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
  • salt and pepper

Sprinkle chops with salt and pepper.  In large skillet, warm oil over medium heat.  Cook chops about 4 minutes on each side.  Remove from heat, drain all but about 1 tbsp of oil, and set aside for about 10 minutes.  While chops are resting, mix wine, lemon juice, peppercorns and capers. This is a good time to make your rice or veggies. Return skillet to burner, warm oil, and add garlic and chorizo.  Cook over medium heat for about 2 minutes, until garlic is slightly browned.  Reduce heat to low-medium, pour in wine mixture and continue cooking for about 6 minutes, turning chops and stirring sauce frequently.

When ready to serve, pour sauce, capers and peppercorns generously over each chop.  I usually serve this with risotto or roasted potatoes and green beans or broccoli.

Best pairings:

  • Belle Glos Rosé
  • Au Bon Climat Pinot Noir
  • Dashe Dry Creek Valley Zinfandel
  • Domaine de Janasse Côtes du Rhône
  • Domaine de Boussiere Gigondas

Rosé Part Deux

Hogwash Rosé

In April I posted about the wonderful world of dry rosé. Since then I have tasted quite a few 2009’s and am pleased to report on the overall success of this crop of salmon colored delights.  Here are my favorites this year:

  • Hogwash: This is 100% grenache from Napa, made by Andy Beckstoffer.  Really juicy and fresh with gobs of ripe berries and hints of peach and tangerine.  Absolutely delicious!
  • Elk Cove: Made from pinot noir from Willamette Valley in Oregon.  Very light and delicate, almost dull, until the mid-palate and finish.  Zesty and fresh but not particularly robust.
  • Chono: Organically farmed syrah grapes make up this tasty little number from Chilé.  It’s a more supple and jammy style, with lots of raspberry notes and a little spice on the finish.
  • Mourgues du Gres La Galets: From Costieres de Nimes in the Rhone Valley, this is a tad more flowery than I typically like.  But the rose petals mingle very nicely with the fresh berry and melon flavors.
  • Gustave Lorentz: A rare treat from Alsace made from pinot noir, this one is certainly one of the biggest hits this year.  It is focused and elegant, with all the components in balance– red berries, rose petal, fresh orange zest, and white peach fuzz.  Everything just sings beautifully.

Grape of the Month: Sauvignon Blanc

In Chicago, summer comes on very quickly.  One day it’s a lovely sixty-eight degrees with a little cloud coverage and a wonderful cool breeze at night.  The very next day, it’s a sticky eighty-five, with relentless sunshine and palpable humidity.  It stays this way for what feels like forever with very few reprieves.  Yuck.  On many parched days we reach for a cold beer; sometimes we’re even reduced to drinking (gasp!) plain old water.  But if wine is in your blood, what you’re looking for this month is something fresh, vibrant, light and refreshing.  And when that’s what you’re thirsting for, there’s nothing better than sauvignon blanc.

Sauvignon Blanc

For a long time, France had the corner on this grape.  In the Loire Valley, it’s the most notable white varietal.  The areas Sancerre and Pouilly Fumé  (hence the moniker fumé blanc) produce extraordinarily clean and complex wines of distinct minerality and grassiness.  In Bordeaux, sauvignon blanc is usually blended with semillon for a rounder, slightly honeyed style that can age for a decade or more.  It also plays a part in the noble dessert wines of Sauternes.

Californian producers have really made a run at it in the last couple decades, mostly from Napa and Russian River Valley.  Here it’s mostly about the crisp, citrusy acidity but the better ones are fashioned after the great Sancerre.  The recent popularity of this grape however, is thanks to a surge of great, affordable sauvignon blanc from New Zealand.  They aren’t overly intellectual wines, but are great sippers and certainly have a place on the dinner table.  From here the wines are zingy and tropical, and dominated mainly by grapefruit and mango.  Many also have a distinct and barely tolerable ammonia aroma.  As far as the rest of the world, the verdict is still out.  Chile and South Africa are coming around on this wonderful white varietal and seem to be establishing their own styles, though generally inexpensive sauv blancs from these regions typically leave a lot to be desired.

Sight: The wine is a very light straw color.  Generally this is a cooler climate, low alcohol wine so you shouldn’t see too much glycerine.  It’s also usually consumed when young so there will a very clear, almost watery rim.

Smell: Because there are so many distinctive qualities based on region, these are just some of the aromas: Lemon, lime, grapefruit, melon, peach, herbs, chive, hay, tangerine, apple, fresh cut grass, nickel.

Taste: Sauvignon blanc always reminds me of the filling for lemon meringue pie.  It can be insanely lemony and usually mid palate I’m thinking “Ugh, this is too tart, I can’t take any more.” But somehow, by the time I finish the sip or the bite of pie, my whole mouth is refreshed and can’t wait for the next dose.  This wine is light, crisp and downright invigorating.  The flavors in play are typically lip-smacking citrus fruits and tropical melon, with hints of  straw and steely minerality.  Its acidity refreshes and stimulates the palate like no other wine can do, but the best ones have depth and elegance that would make chardonnay blush.

Pairing: Shrimp ceviche.  Caesar salad.  Fresh goat’s milk cheese.


  • $10-15:  Indaba, Honig, Monkey Bay, Dry Creek, Beckmen, Jolivet Attitude
  • $15-30:  Mulderbosch, Frog’s Leap, Bird, Isabel, Santa Rita Medalla Real, Vacheron Sancerre, Cliff Lede
  • Before you die: Didier Daganeau Silex, Chateau Pape Clement Blanc

Dear Customer Part I

Dear Customer,

If your worst problem is that your neighborhood liquor store is out of your favorite wine, and you have to wait two days for it to come in, or choose from the other ZILLION BOTTLES in the store, I’d like to trade lives with you.  Seriously.  Stop whining.