Thursday, October 9, 2008

WBW 50:Which Wine, Which Wilderness

Alright Russ, you've thrown the gauntlet. I know that challenge wasn't crafted with me in mind, but it sure feels like it. I don't know if you could have hit closer to home. So Russ, I'm taking you to Big Spring near Fennimore, WI.

Big Spring is, surprise, a spring fed creek. It roars out of the side of a Wisconsin dell and tumbles through a small valley on its way to the Blue River. The spring is a short hike from Big Spring Road. The spring itself is made even more spectacular by the cascade below it that connects it to the creek below. What makes Big Spring so special is that it is full of beautiful brook trout.

Spend the morning catching trout on a fly rod and enjoying the last throws of summer, which comes in late September this far north. It is classic Wisconsin trout fishing making your way through broken patches of farmland and tree stands and in the fall months being surrounded by changing leaves and drying corn.

For wine lovers the highlight of this little valley is Spurgeon Winery. Located at the intersection of Big Spring Road and Pine Tree Road, Spurgeon is exactly what you would expect of a Wisconsin winery. Supported almost 100% by tourists, the winery caters to a more casual wine drinker with a healthy selection of sweeter wines made from offbeat more hearty varietals.

After a visit to the winery it is time to celebrate the end of trout season with a shot at a final brook trout on a dry fly. Fishing over rising trout in the evening is a beautiful way to end the day, and it would call for a bottle of 2005 Montelena Chardonnay shared with a fishing buddy as the sun starts to dip over the western hills. The Montelena is young enough to still display the bright acidity and since it doesn't undergo malolactic, it would make for a nice bright crisp reminder that it is indeed still summer time, if only for a couple more days.

When it is all over, reflect on the day with a nice bottle of wine back in Fennimore at the Eagle Creek Inn, which boasts a fantastic wine list and an unbeatable dinner menu.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Wine for the Next Generation

No I don't mean the millenials (sp?), I mean my next generation. My wife and I are having a baby. I'm really excited about it, as any expectant father would be. We are busy painting a nursery, and doing all the things hopeful parents do. I'm doing something a little different though. I'm hoping 2009 is a good year for the wine harvest. I'm sure there will be a good year somewhere in the world, but I'm hoping the traditional powerhouses have great years.

You see, I want to buy a case (or two or three) of wine for my little one. Wine is a family affair and I want to have some special bottles to share with my children over the years. What better way to share than wine from their birth year. My plan is to buy wine a couple years after my kid is born and keep it all the way to their wedding, doling out little bits along the way. I'm not exactly sure how to go about this, how much I will spend, what I will buy, and so on, but whatever it is I hope it will be special. Does anyone else out there do this? How has it worked out?

Montelena Vertical

While the Cubs were busy losing game 1, I was busy enjoying a vertical tasting of Chateau Montelena. Held at Binny's in Highland Park the event was put on by Montelena's regional sales rep. Talk about a big territory, this one guy covers the entirety of the American West from Chicago to Arizona, excluding only California. The rep was also a fly fisherman, so needles to say I was a bit jealous of his position.

On to the wine. Its a treat to get to taste 7 years worth of any winery's wine, let alone Montelena. For those that don't know, Montelena was central in the 1976 Paris Tasting, and is a favorite of Robert Parker, as well as actually producing a fantastic wine that ages quite gracefully.

I will never be the one waxing on about tasting notes, frankly I'm just not that into it. What I will say is that the 1998, 2002 and 2004 all stand out in my mind. All the wines were good, but those just had a special quality about them that jumped out. I own a bottle of the 2002 and was very excited to find that it was showing so well. I'm looking forward to popping it in a few years.

I really think this kind of tasting is a fantastic way to learn more about wine. You can go to all kinds of large tastings, but its the seated classroom type tastings that really up your game.

I'm going to try to get back to highlighting events going forward, so look for some ideas going forward.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Great Wine at Restaurants Without the Big Price Tag

I have always been frustrated at the price paid for wine in a restaurant. I know that liquor sales are what make most restaurants profitable and I can't fault them for that. I don't even mind paying $20 for a bottle that might otherwise sell for $10 at the store. What I get riled up about is the bottle that retails for $50-100 and can cost upwards of $200 on the wine list. In recent years I have found that there is an alternative to the high prices. Corkage!

For those not familiar with corkage it is the idea of bringing your own bottle of wine to dinner and having the restaurant, for a small fee, open and serve the wine. They are reasonably entitled to the fee because they serve the wine and furnish glasses. The fee is usually anywhere from $5 to $20 and usually corresponds to the menu prices. In some places that choose not to have a liquor license it may even be free.

Given our current economic crisis (I know, another blogger trying to capitalize on the big news headline, how original), I think it is fair to say that many of us are looking to save a little money. I am by no means advocating bringing a bottle of two buck chuck and paying $20 to have it opened with dinner (though it that's your style well I won't stop you). What I am advocating is picking up a $50 or more bottle of wine and paying the $20 for corkage. You can usually find some fantastic bottles at this price, and some even cheaper. That makes a $50 bottle a $70 bottle, that might have cost you as much as $200 at the restaurant.

One of my favorites for this is Tango Sur. I have written about Tango Sur before, but I just wanted to highlight its free corkage. Beer, wine, they might even let you bring a bottle of everclear if you were so inclined (eech). The point is that it is a great place to enjoy a fantastic bottle of wine with a fantastic meal and save some coin.

On the higher end of things I recently brought a bottle of 1998 Larrivet-Haut-Brion to Mon Ami Gabi. It was a fantastic wine that there was no way I could afford had I tried to buy it off a list (that is if they even had it). Sure I paid a markup on it, but it was stil lvery reasonable comparatively.

Chicago is awash in restaurants and almost all of them will accomodate you if you are willing to work with them. I recommend calling to find out the corkage policy before visiting. Some of them will even waive the fee if you buy a bottle off the list first.

One more nice resource for Chicago is the book BYOB Chicago. The book details restaurants that offer free corkage. If you don't find the restaurant in the book, call, I can almost guarantee they have a policy and will be happy to help you out.