Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Spurgeon Vineyards Foch

I spend a lot of time fly fishing on the small streams of Southwest Wisconsin. One of the streams I fish regularly runs within 100 yards of Spurgeon Vineyrads' Tasting Room. For all of the times I've fished the stream, I've never been inside the winery, so on my last trip into the area I made a point of stopping into the tasting room for to check it out.

The tasting room is unassuming. The decorating is sparse, but clean. If I had to guess by the layout of the room, I would say that the winery makes as much money on t-shirts and corkscrews as they do on wine. This is the only Wisconsin winery I've been to, but after visiting others in Illinois and Indiana I would say it is a typical Midwestern winery.

The wines were tending on the sweet, and yes that's the residual sugar sweet, side. I don't typically enjoy this style of wine, so I didn't spend much time tasting them. There were a few dry wines including a Chambourcin and a Chardonnay. Most of the wines were forgettable, but there was one standout. The Foce was interesting, complex, and frankly a surprise from this tiny little winery.

I had never tasted, or even heard of, Foce before I tried it in the tasting room, so I did a little reading on it, and the most comprehensive information I found on it was here. Appellation America says Foce is a cold weather grape that is apparently very prevalent in northern wine regions in North America.

I'm tasting the wine as I write this, and I'm finding it different from many of the wines made from grapes in the traditional growing regions. The nose immediately exhibits smoky, earthen aromas. There are no overbearing fruit characteristics that I can detect. The mouthfeel is creamy, almost oily. If I had to guess I would say maybe this wine is in need of some acidity for balance. There is virtually no fruit showing through the wine (thats not a bad thing). I taste woody, earthy flavors, along with some roasted flavors like chocolate or coffee. Overall I think I like this wine, and for the $7.95 I paid for it, it is a decent wine.

I think I will seek out a couple more examples of Foch in the future. This is an interesting grape, with potential for some quality complex wines. In the future, I will continue to visit Spurgeon to see if their efforts with this wine improve. I would say that if you happen to be near Highland, WI with some time to kill you should stop in to Spurgeon.

Misusing the word 'Dry'

I was at a tasting last week of several Bordeaux reds and whites. At one table there were 2 sauvignon blanc blends. When I approached the table I was told that one wine was "drier" than the other, but that neither one was particularly sweet. Now I'm fairly certain that both of these wines were absent any residual sugar, making both of them completely "dry". What the host was trying to say was that one had more noticeable fruit than the other.

A dry wine by definition means that all the sugar was fermented into alcohol and that there is no residual sweetness left in the juice. A sweet wine by contrast had its fermentation stopped early either by force, or by the alcohol content reaching a level at which the yeast could no longer survive. This is the traditional use of the words dry and sweet to describe a wine.

Unfortunately there is a big misunderstanding or misconception that if a wine has a lot of upfront fruit characteristics that it is not dry, but rather sweet. This couldn't be further from the truth. The fruit flavors do not come from sugar, but rather from esters and acids and other compounds that are present in the grape. These esters and acids match those of apples, currants, peaches, blackberries, strawberries, and so on. That is why you are able to taste those fruits in your wine.

I've been thinking about this dry thing for a while now, and it has me wondering. Has the misuse of the term become so pervasive that those who use it are correct? I mean "irregardless" is in the dictionary. It has a definition as a nonstandard word, but its in there. If people continue to use the term sweet to refer to a "fruit bomb" will the meaning of the word change? Should it? Is that going too far? Should I have chewed out, or otherwise corrected, this member of the wine profession for perpetuating the problem?

I think what it really comes down to is the reactions the word sweet and dry elicit from wine drinkers. I've known many a wine drinker to tell me that they don't like dry wine, only to chug down a glass of Mondavi Cabernet. Interestingly enough I've heard the reverse from others. People who claim they don't like those "fruity wines" only to pick up the same glass, and remark at what a good wine it is.

If you are interested in finding out more about these wine traits here are some wines that display each of those characteristics.

Dry and Fruity: Ridge Three Valleys Zinfandel
Sweet: Urban Riesling

Double Bookings

Well I've gone and done it. No sooner do I get all excited about the Midwest Wine Expo and Pinot Days, than I find out that I'm already busy that weekend. It seems that I am destined to miss yet another year of what looks like the biggest wine weekend in Chicago. Oh well. Maybe next year I'll be able to make it. Binny's really needs to get the date for this out sooner so I can stop double booking my life. Either that or I just need to stop doing so much stuff.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Tollway Oases

When I was little I lived in New Jersey for a year. My parents used the time there to travel all over the eastern seaboard to see the sights. One of my earliest memories is of being in a tollway oasis (probably in Massachusetts) and being overwhelmed by the array of fast food locations. After I moved back to the south I would recall that fast food buffet and the memory wouldn't make sense. There are few toll roads in the south and so the idea of an oasis is foreign. It wasn't until years later that I was able to reconcile the memory with reality as I visited Chicago for the first time and saw the plethora of oases sprinkled throughout the metro area.

I'm not a big fan of toll roads, I think they make themselves more expensive just by existing, and would much prefer a creative tax that did not require millions of dollars to be spent on toll collection every year, but its Illinois, so what are you gonna do? I suppose I should let it be, but today I was struck by something at the oasis that really bothered me.

I was running some errands at lunch today and I stopped into the oasis for a quick bite to eat.
I was presented with the usual options, McDonalds, Panda Express, Subway, etc, and I was generally nonplussed by the choices. I was however drawn in by Famous Famiglia, the pizza place which apparently has the contract to operate in every oasis in Illinois. The stromboli I
had was quite good, as were the garlic bread balls. In fact I have no complaints about the food it was down right delicious.

That brings me to the bothering. As I ate my food I looked down at my plate. There in plain sight "New York's Favorite Pizza". New York? This isn't New York, This is Chicago. The city that turned deep dish pizza into the greatest food of all time. (Yes I'll argue that with anyone out there, and I'll win). This whole thing just set me off.

The idea of a tollway is to tax the many motorists that travel through our great state on the way to some less great state, so presumably many of the people traveling on the road are from out of town. These people stop at the oasis as a convenient means of refueling (car and stomach) as they travel through town. When they stop off around the outskirts of Chicago, and have a hankering for Pizza, what do we give them? New York's Favorite Pizza. What about Chicago's Favorite Pizza. Where is the banner of Chicago Gustatory Excellence? The Pizza at the oasis is at its best a missed opportunity to advertise our fair city's culinary accomplishments, and at the worst an offense to those who hold up Chicago's Pizza as the best in the world.

If I have to pay $2.80 a day to drive on a road, at the very least shouldn't I be able to stop along it and get some of Chicago's unique delicacies.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Pinot Days Chicago

If you listen to Grape Radio you no doubt get jealous at all the wine festivals that occur in cities like San Francisco and LA. If you are like me you feel like San Francisco has dozens of major events every year, and you wish they would throw just a couple our way. Well it has just been brought to my attention that Pinot Days is actually a touring event, and will be coming to a Navy Pier near us.

Pinot Days is exclusively Pinot Noir. The tasting itself is held at Navy Pier on November 10th. It will include over 50 producers of the "thin skinned grape" from all over the world. In addition to the main tasting there are other events at Sam's locations across the city, and a couple of wine dinners at Bin 36 and 312 Chicago.

The Grape Radio Crew was pretty high on their trip to Pinot Days. So if you get a chance it sounds like this will be a good event. From what I can gather, this is not as involved as the event in San Francisco (for example there is no seated comparison of Gary's Vineyard Pinots - Festival Organizers, if you are reading this, shame on you), but none the less it should be an opportunity to taste a load of Pinot.

If you remember back to my last post, I'm sure you noticed that this is the day before the Midwest Wine Expo, so that weekend is shaping up to be a busy one for folks in the trade, and for me. I hope to attend both of these, but I know that I will be suffering from palate (as well as physical) fatigue if I don't find some way (in addition to spitting) to pace my way through what could amount to a selection of almost 900 wines in 2 days. Of course I guess there could be considerably worse problems to have than too much wine and too little time. Here's to making it through the weekend.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Midwest Wine Expo

If you've been reading from the beginning you know that the first event I planned to cover was last year's Midwest Wine Expo. I was unable to attend the event, and immediately started looking forward to next year's event. Well it turns out that next year's event is this year. There was a poster up in Binny's Chicago last Thursday , and this weekend I confirmed that in fact the Midwest Wine Expo will be this November 11th.

Prices have gone up this year to $30 in advance. Still a pretty good deal when you consider everything going on here.

I'm really hoping nothing conspires to keep me away this year, and I think it will be a good time. Last year's seminars looked really good, and I suspect that this year's will be just as inviting.

Friday, October 5, 2007

Binny's Bordeaux Tasting

Thursday night was a disappointing evening. The Cubs gave some false hope early on, and it was all downhill from there.

Fortunately for me, my evening was saved by a wine tasting at Binny's Chicago. I mentioned in my last 'Highlighting Some Upcomming Events' post that Binny's was doing a Bordeaux tasting. I also alluded to the fact that there might be some blockbuster wines on the list. I had no idea what might actually be in store for the evening, but the writeup and the price of the tasting led me to believe that Binny's would pull out some interesting wines for the evening. Turns out I was right.

Most of the wines ranged from $20-$60 late vintage run of the mill Bordeaux. There were several great wines and even a couple treats thrown in. I'll start with the "good stuff". A pair of '86s (Angelus, Latour) were the old men at the tasting. I don't get exposure to a lot of older vintages, and these were an interesting departure for me. Both of them seemed a little over the hill to me. There wasn't a lot of weight left on either of them, and any subtleties that may have been in these wines were too far gone for my inexperienced senses to detect. On that same table were a pair of Younger stars, '99 Mouton Rothschild, and an '03 La Mission Haut-Brion. Both were very good and very young. I swear Every vintage of Mouton Rothschild I've ever had has the exact same nose. I suppose that is one of the defining characteristics that make it a great wine. Rounding out the "Ticket Only Table" were a pair of Sauternes including an '03 D'Yquem. I've never cared for Sauternes, but given that this si one of the most famous wines in the world (and most expensive) I had to give it a sip.

The rest of the tasting saw a peppering of '00-'04 wines spread all across Bordeaux. 21 wines in all. Most of them had a unique character to them, and overall this served as an education in regional character, and vintage quality.

One of the interesting points in the tasting came when I ran into a trio of '96 wines (Calon -Segur, Duhart-Milon, Pontet-Canet). All of these wines were stellar. I was amazed that 11 years on these wines still had so much flesh and weight to them. I would be interested to
know if 10 years from now these wines were as delicate as the pair of '86s from the other table. I was amazed by the profile of the Pontet-Canet, and despite its steep price tag, I had to pick up a bottle for Christmas Dinner.

Overall it was a great tasting. Lots of good wines, and the pourers were full of knowledge on the wines they were pouring. I can certainly say that I came home significantly poorer than when I arrived.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Raising a Glass (Of Beer?) for the Cubbies

Living in Chicago has tested my baseball loyalties. I grew up a Braves fan. I've been following the Braves since the abysmal 80s, and celebrated while watching the Braves win 15 straight division championships. Through all of that my love of the team has not wavered.

When I moved to the Chicago area, I found a group of passionate fans who loved their losers, the Cubs. Its hard not to get swept up in all that passion. So I've become a closet Cubs fan. Sure I'm still watching the Braves every chance I get, and that will never change, but I've grown attached to this city, and by proxy, their teams. I'm a Bears fan, and a Cubs fan. If the Blackhawks would ever come on TV I might turn into a fan of them as well. Sorry Bulls, I'm never gonna love the NBA enough to care about you guys.

So tonight has me stuck in a dilemma. Its not a dilemma about who to root for, as you can rest assured I'll be rooting for the Cubs, its a dilemma about what to drink...As much as I love wine, and drink it every excuse I get, I just can't see myself watching a baseball game and drinking wine. Baseball, and more importantly PLAYOFF baseball, calls for something more sacred: Beer!

The natural beer choice is Old Style, but here is one of those times when I'm glad I wasn't born a Cubs fan. Call me crazy, but I prefer to taste my beer, and for my beer to taste good. Choosing a good tasting beer gets harder and harder every day. I think the micro/craft beer market is more crowded than the wine market these days. Fortunately it is October, and that really only leaves one choice as far as style: Oktoberfest!. I really don't think it is a coincidence that Oktoberfest and the playoffs are in the same month. Oktoberfest seems like the perfect pairing to a good baseball game, so tonight a trip to Sam's Wine is in order to pick up a six pack. So like a kid in the candy store, I'm headed out for some good baseball beer.

Wish me (and the Cubbies ) luck.

Highlighting Some Upcomming Events

Here are a few events coming up in the next few weeks that sound interesting:

LUSH wine tasting at Sacred Art in Roscoe: Oct 4. More info here. I'm not really sure what to expect from this, other than it sounds interesting. Sounds like a portion of the proceeds go to underprivileged kids. Drink wine and help kids, what could be better?

Binny's Bordeaux Night Wine Tasting: Oct 4. Binny's Downtown Chicago. All I can say about Bordeaux is mmm. I think I'm hooked. Should be a good selection of the good stuff. I'm certainly looking forward to it.

Sam's Private Tasting - Rewards members Only!: Oct 10, 17, 24. One at each Sam's location. Just got an email about this. (One of the 50/day I get from Sam's, but I'm not annoyed). Looks like Sam's is doing a Bordeaux tasting for their members. Free, Free, Free. More bordeaux, are we noticing a theme here? I don't know if this will be 5 of 50 wines, but its free Bordeaux, who can complain. See their website for more info.

Oktoberfest Wine & Beer Tasting: Oct 12. Binny's Niles. Bordeaux not your thing? Something for everyone here. German Beers, German Rieslings. Wow I love that country, and $5 to boot.

Binny's Bordeaux Tasting: Oct 13. Binny's Buffalo Grove. Enough Bordeaux Already. Better believe I'll be at this one too. Will I see you there? Binny's says 25 wines. Tough to know if these will be the big ones or the $10 bottles, but I'm not sure I care.

Lots of good stuff coming up. There are even more events listed at localwineevents.com. Be sure to check at least one of these out.

Domain Migration Complete

So I'm officially up and running on the new domain. www.thirdcoastwine.com. I'm still trying to figure out how to get plain old "thirdcoastwine.com" working. If you are getting this in your rss reader, it means you are subscribed through feedburner, and you don't need to do anything at all. If you aren't subscribed, well you should be. Just click on the little rss symbol, and away you'll go. The old blogspot address will forward to the new domain, so that shouldn't be an issue either. Basically, if you were finding me before, you should still be able to find me.

Hopefully in the next few months, the domain will allow me to provide some new features around the blog. I have some ideas on how to provide content about wine in Chicago outside the blog. Look for that in the near future.

As far as posts, I'm planning on a trip to the city this weekend, so look for a review of a wine bar somewhere down there.

Monday, October 1, 2007

Third Coast Wine is Growing Up!

I'm starting to get a small amount of regular traffic, and so I think it is time to grow up a little bit. Ultimately I would like to get off the blogger platform and onto something better. The first step in this process is a new domain name. I've successfully acquired the thirdcoastwine.com domain, so very soon I'll be moving there. Unfortunately as part of the move there may be some service interruptions. I'll do my best to keep it to a minimum, and hopefully you can bear with me. Stay tuned for updates.