Thursday, August 30, 2007

Sam's Wine "Great White Burgundies"

I just spent an evening in the company of 18 other wine lovers from around Chicago.
We spent an hour and a half on a tour of Burgundy's most famous white wine, Chardonnay. Tasting everything from a Chablis Grand Cru, to a pair of phenomenal Montrachet, we worked our way through a flight of 10 wines, ranging in price from $24.99 to $86.99. There was not a bad wine in the lot, and I must commend our host Bill St. John. Bill did an excellent job of guiding us through the regions of Burgundy, and through the intricacies of each wine.

For those who are unfamiliar with white Burgundy, it is sublime when at its best. Two phenomenal examples tonight included a Puligny-Montrachet 1er Cru AOC 2005 Paul Pernot "Les Folatieres", and a Savigny-les-Beaune 2000 AOC Domaine Leroy. Both were light on oak, well rounded, crisply acidic wines that put California Chardonnay to shame. When you hear people's disdain for overoaked Chardonnay, these are the wines that they hold up as shining examples of what the grape can be.

The seminar was $50 and was well worth the price. It was a seated tasting that included water, bread, 2 stems and literature on Burgundy. Also included on that price was the stellar instruction of Bill St. John. I don't know if Bill's expertise lies specifically in Burgundy, but he was well informed, articulate, and entertaining. It is obvious that Bill has been involved in the wine trade for many years, and that he has an intimate understanding of his own palate.

There is an upcoming seminar in the city on Red Burgundy. If you are interested in the region, and need an excuse to jump start your education, or if you just want to try some really good wine, I recommend it highly. If there is a repeat of this seminar in the future, I will be sure to add it to the events calendar, and to mention it here on the blog.

If you are looking to pick up some White Burgundy either of the two I mentioned above would be wonderful (although a bit on the expensive side). If those don't excite you, I'll be rating everything I tasted tonight on Snooth at some point in the near future.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Highlighting Some Upcomming Events

I wanted to highlight a couple of interesting wine events in the city that are coming up in the next few weeks.

Lions...Tigers...and Wines, Oh My!: Tomorrow! This is a shameful admission, but despite having lived in Chicago for almost 4 years now, I've never been to the Lincoln Park Zoo. If I wasn't predisposed tomorrow night I would absolutely be taking a train ride into the city. This one just strikes me as fun. Apparently 15 New Zealand Winegrowers (I don't know if that means vineyard owners, winemakers, or winery reps) will be pouring at the zoo tomorrow. Certainly brings new meaning to having a little barnyard in your Pinot Noir. Details here:

Windy City Wine Festival: on September 7th-8th Binny's is hosting the Windy City Wine Festival. This takes place at Grant Park. The event seems like a well organized deal, though I've never been. It looks like there is a large contingent of vendors that attend. No doubt if you are in the city that weekend this would be a good one to check out. I don't really get the pricing structure though. $25 for 6 tastes. Those better be big tastes. I don't really think this event is for the serious drinker. Vendors seem to be the bigger "value" brands, and I doubt anyone is pouring Silver Oak or Mouton-Rothschild at this one. Even with the likely lack of heavy hitters, its hard to pass on wine beneath the Chicago skyline on a late summer afternoon in Grant Park. Details Here:

Friday, August 17, 2007

Garden Fresh Market

I'm not a big fan of buying wine in the grocery store. The selection is usually unimaginative, small, and overpriced. Not to mention that in all likelihood the wine was not treated well on its way to the shelf.
With that disclaimer out of the way I've got a story to share about my shopping experience last night. I went to Garden Fresh Market in Mundelein last night. The store opened recently after Cub Foods closed. First of all, what a great store. The produce section is fabulous, and I think the prices seem reasonable. they have a huge meat counter, a nice looking deli, and a fabulous selection of international foods. There is a whole aisle of nothing but dried pastas from Italy (including what must have been a dozen different whole grain pasta brands).
The real highlight however was the wine section. They are light on high end wines, but the selection of $10-12 bottles is fabulous. They must have had at least 5 different Israeli wines, several wines that looked to be Georgian, and a great selection of value priced Chianti from Italy (no barollo or barbaresco though). If you haven't been into a Garden Fresh, I highly recommend you check it out. While you are there stop in to the wine aisle, and pick yourself a nice Georgian red , or a Chardonnay from the sea of Galilee.

Friday, August 10, 2007

How Do You Standardize Taste?

A couple of weeks ago Tim Elliot at suggested a standardized wine rating system for bloggers. Tim recommended a 5 star system (with half stars) basically breaking down a wine into horrible to classic. You can read his proposal here.

When Tim made the recommendation, it made sense to me. Web 2.0 (and Tim's Wine 2.0) is all about displaying information in new and interesting ways, and having standards is paramount to that. Bloggers will continue to grow as a source for wine reviews, and having a way to share those reviews with little effort would be great.

Imagine if every review that comes from every blogger, every publication, everything, ended up on Snooth (with appropriate credit of course). Wouldn't it be amazing to have a portal where you could see everything anyone had ever written about a wine, condensed down to a single page of information? Scores would be aggregated (maybe weighted on trustworthiness) and presented as the world's collective opinion on a wine. Reviews would be piled high giving you a single stop to read what your trusted critic, favorite blogger, and your next door neighbor all had to say about the wine. Sure that's a little scary if you are a producer making second rate wine, but for the consumer, it is an incredible resource.

That's an amazing vision, and one that I hope Snooth (or another wine site) is able to realize. The problem is, how do you standardize a review. How do you take an opinion of value, quality, reputation, and uniqueness and boil it down to a standard that everyone can work inside? At the time Tim made his proposal to the blogosphere I commented:

The inherent problem I see with a standard scoring process, is that it leaves out the uniqueness of each reviewers system. For instance, I may want to include some sort
of a value quotient and a score. With this system I can’t do that.

When I wrote that, I hadn't even considered the possibility of unconventional reviews. Then today I saw two posts from Fermentation and Winehiker about Chateau Petrogasm. This is a novel and thought provoking new way to review a wine. Images that represent a wine, it borders on genius. I especially like this one. If a picture was ever worth a thousand words, it's this one.

I'm torn though, because I can't figure out how to quantify it. If wine reviews become standardized, then what happens to reviews like this? Where is their home? The IT industry has long argued that standards stifle innovation. Anybody whose idea doesn't fit inside the standard shrivels and dies. Would the wine community lose innovative new ideas like this if we were standardized?

I applaud Tim for his standard. Heck I more than applaud it, I use it. I think it is a bold step in the right direction for creating an invaluable resource for consumers. I just hope that someone smarter than myself can figure out a way to fit fringe creativity like Chateau Petrogasm into a standardized mold. After all, while the Internet is all about providing better, faster, bigger information, it thrives because it is full of creative people.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Illini Lose Right To Buy Wine From Out Of State Retailers

Tuesday the Illinois Senate voted 49-5 to pass HB-429, effectively stripping you and me of the right to buy wine from retailers across state lines. Tom Wark over at Fermentation has the scoop.

Of course, wine retailers across the country, who had been invited into Illinois for 15 years to cultivate a market of wine lovers, have been told they are no longer welcome to do business with those or any other Illinois wine lovers.

It is disappointing. This directly impacts an Illinois Consumer's ability to find wine at good prices. Sites like, Snooth, wine woot, winestilsoldout, and wine searcher are pretty much off limits to you and me (See edit below). This is really sad, because a renaissance in wine sales is about to take place on the internet with innovators like WineQ and Snooth leading the way, and we are left out in the cold.

I join Tom in saying to the Illinois Legislature "Shame on You". This was a blatant disregard for the rights and interests of your constituents and a total sell out to lobbyists and corporate interests. I haven't dug deep enough to find out if my senator voted for it (though I wrote multiple times urging against it), but if I find out that was the case, my vote will go somewhere else next time.

I'm still holding out for a challenge of the bill in the courts, hopefully it will be found unconstitutional. Until then, I guess we are out of luck.

Edit: Snooth founder Philip James commented that Snooth has recently added some in state retailers, including Sams Wine, and that they can now ship to Illinois consumers. He also points out that has a presence in Illinois and should be able to ship to us. Yay! Unfortuantely there are hundreds of retailers who no longer have this luxury.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Wine Tasting Notes

This is a blog about wine, and so from time to time I will talk about wines I've tasted. I want this blog to be about "finding, drinking, and sharing wine in Chicago", so I don't want to spend time reviewing wine on the site. For a few weeks now, I've been using for my wine reviews. Snooth is a social networking site for wine. Part of its functionality allows users to review and rate wines. You can find a feed of the wine reviews on the right sidebar of the site. If I mention a wine in the blog, you can expect that it will be reviewed on Snooth. My rating system is following the recommendations of Tim Elliot at

Let me know what you think. Do you like the Snooth idea, or would you rather the wine reviews end up on the main page? I'm still experimenting with this, so feedback would be very helpful.

FYI, if you use a blog reader, you can subscribe to my reviews here.

Monday, August 6, 2007

Chicago's Great Wine Selection

Living in the third largest city in the US has its perks. One of my favorites is the ready access to an enormous selection of quality wines. I was reminded of just how spoiled i am on a trip to Evansville IN this weekend.

I always like to bring wine to my host when I stay with friends. If someone is willing to put me up for a weekend, feed me, and show me a good time, the least I can do is share a good bottle of wine with them. Normally I would bring a bottle with me either from my "cellar" or from one of the local wine shops here in the north burbs. Faced with 100 degree heat and an overnight stopover on the way down south, I decided to take my chances with the local liquor store instead of bringing my host a bottle of cooked wine.

I took the recommendation of friends in town on where to find a good selection of wine in Evansville, but I came up short. There were 3 bottles of wine that fit my criteria, and 2 of them were way too expensive for even the best of friends. I was somewhat limited because my friends had asked for a cabernet to go with dinner. That left me with a single choice of Frogs Leap 2003 Napa Cabernet (see "What I'm Drinking" on the right sidebar for a review). I was very disappointed, as a trip to Sam's or Binny's would have revealed literally hundreds of cabernets in the $40 range from nearly a dozen countries or regions.

Fortunately I was able to redeem myself with a nice bottle of Pinot Noir from Benton Lane (see that in the sidebar too). Unfortunately my hosts were not big Pinot drinkers, so the enjoyment was somewhat lost on them, but I was celebrating inside.

I'm happy to be back in Chicago where I can hit up a good liquor store at the drop of a hat. I guess I'll have to figure out some way to transport wine safely in the future, because relying on small towns to get my wine just won't cut it.