Friday, July 31, 2015

It's Time for Albariño!

August 1 is Albariño day. There's something I bet you didn't know - I didn't until a few weeks ago. I always thought it strange that there would be a special day for a particular wine - why not a week or a month? I'm not going to drink it only on that day; regardless, at least this business about a special day gets us thinking about Albariño- and that's a good thing.

Albariño is a dry white that is becoming ever more popular in America; certainly the public is moving away from big reds, preferring more elegant, drinkable wines and Albariño is there to fit the bill. The fact that it's a lovely aromatic wine with delicious fresh fruit is also a big plus - here is a wine that is a crowd pleaser and one that can be paired with gourmet fare.

Albariño is a dry white made from the eponymous grape grown in the Rias Baixas region of northwest Spain, not far from the border with Portugal (there are also some excellent versions of Albariño produced in Portugal, but for this post, we'll only deal with those from Spain). 

This is a continental climate, with the advantage of being located not far from the Atlantic Ocean, meaning that local vineyards receive cooling breezes from the sea, moderating temperatures. This helps preserve freshness and acidity, which make this an ideal region for the Albariño variety. In fact, 90% of the plantings in Rias Baixas are Albariño. 

This means dozens and dozens of producers craft their version of Albariño. I've enjoyed these wines for years; Albariño has become one of my favorite summer whites, although I enjoy it in the spring and autumn as well. Most are unoaked, letting the pear, melon and apple fruit aromas shine through; they're ideal paired with shellfish (paella would be a great match), risotto and lighter vegetables such as carrots and peas. I also love taking an Albariño to a BYOB Thai restaurant here in Chicago - they are especially great with spring rolls, noodles or chicken or pork with lime and peanut sauce.

Here are notes on a few I've tasted recently:

2014 Don Olegario - Light yellow; lovely aromas of lime, golden apple, white peach and lilacs. Medium-bodied with a dry finish with a hint of minerality. Very good complexity and balance. Great typicity - a delicious Albariño for enjoyment now and over the next year. Suggested retail price: $20 (Imported by Kobrand)

2011 Trico - While most examples of Albariño are enjoyed upon release, the best can age a few years. This 2011 is one of the finest examples of aged Albrariño I've tried in a few years. Deep yellow- still fresh aromas of Bosc pear, geranium, saffron and magnolia. Medium-full with very good concentration. Very good acidity, excellent concentration and nice structure. Enjoy on its own or with paella, risotto or a summer vegetable salad. $25 (Imported by Michael Skurnik)

2013 Trico "Tabla de Sumar"- Straw/light yellow; attractive aromas of honeysuckle, yellow peach and lilacs. Medium-full, this has bright, juicy varietal fruit, very good acidity and a zippy, zesty, finish. Tasty and very delicious! $15 - very good value (Imported by Michael Skurnik)

2013 Martin Codax Albarino - Straw/light yellow; aromas are a bit closed at present - hints of Anjou pear, white peach and lilacs. Medium-bodied, clean and well balanced with good acidity. Good typicity - this is pleasant now, but should open a bit and will probably reveal more complexity within another 10-12 months. $15 (Imported by Gallo)

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Champagne Class/Dinner

Champagne cellar in Bouzy (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

I will be conducting another of my popular Champagne class/ dinners on Saturday, August 1 at Yindee Thai Restaurant in Chicago. Details are below - seating is very limited, so if you want to attend, you need to enroll as soon as possible.

At $35 a person, this is a great value, as you will enjoy dinner with five Champagnes from producers such as Deutz, Taittinger, Veuve Clicquot, Duval-Leroy and Drappier. Don't miss this opportunity, as I will taste out these wines and talk about recent developments in Champagne, where I visited in June.

Champagne Class/Dinner - Saturday, August 1

5 Champagnes plus food

Drappier Blanc de Blancs “Signature”
Taittinger Vintage Brut 2004
Duval-Leroy Rosé Premier Cru
Veuve Clicquot Rosé Vintage 2004
Cuvée William Deutz 2000

$35 per person for the food and champagnes (and handouts). Yindee Thai, 1824 W. Addison Street (just under the Addison Brown line "L"). 7:00 PM start. (Please note- do not call the restaurant for information- you must enroll through me.)

This will be limited to 8 or 9 people, so everyone can enjoy enough Champagne.

As this is limited to a small number of people on a first-come, first-serve basis, I want to be sure I fill each set. Please email me at to let me know how many people you want to reserve for and I can let you know if there are still seats available.

Payment will be to my PayPal account. The email address is The fee is $35, which covers everything.

When I receive your payment, I will contact you and let you know. No cancellations after July 29.

I look forward to seeing you on August 1, for an educational and fun evening with the many styles of Champagne – paired with Thai cuisine!

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Italian Wine Classes- From North to South

The Italian Wine Specialist Certification program organized by the North American Sommelier Assocation will be presented in Chicago, starting on July 25 and continuing on July 26, August 1 and 2 with a final exam on August 8.

Students will taste wines from every region in Italy - all 20 and will also learn about the country's complex regulations as well as history and of course, grape varieties. The total cost is $650.00

The class will be taught by John Cressman, who is the Chicago delegate of the Association and is an AIS (Associazione Italiana Sommelier) "Gold Pin" Sommelier.

To enroll for the classes, click here.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Champagne - Deserved Honors and Success

Champagne Caves (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

Great news for the Champagne region! On July 4, UNESCO made the decision to include the caves, houses and slopes of Champagne as a UNESCO Heritage site. This means that the Champagne region is now on a list of other World Heritage sites such as the Great Wall of China, the Statue of Liberty and the Aachen Cathedral in Germany, to name only a few (there are more than 1000 Heritage Sites across the globe). It now joins other wine regions on the list, such as the Upper Middle Rhine Valley in Germany and the Vineyard Landscape of Piedmont: Langhe-Roero and Monferrato in Italy.

Champagne Vineyards in Bouzy (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

For me, this is great news, as it will only help the sales of Champagne. You might think that Champagne might not need this acclaim to improve their market performance, but I believe that when people understand the meaning of these hillsides and their terroir, as well as the secrets of the cellars where wines are aged for years, transforming white and red wines into stunning sparkling wines of great individuality, they will realize how truly special Champagne is. They will also understand how singular Champagne is - there are notable bubblies produced in many territories around the globe, but Champagne is unique and is the reference point for sparkling wine.

I raise a glass of Champagne to the growers and producers of Champagne and congratulate them on this wonderful commendation!

Click here for a copy of the press release.

Friday, June 12, 2015

A Singular History of Wine

Wine books are as popular as ever, but when it comes to books about the history of wine, that's a different story. That's not a surprise, given that most readers would rather learn about new wines and trends as opposed to winemaking practices from decades and centuries ago.

So the history of wine is usually relegated to an opening chapter in most books, if at all. I'm happy to report then, that British author Oz Clarke has changed all that with a wonderful new work called The History of Wine in 100 Bottles. It's a typical Clarke opus, full of wit and style; it's a breezy read and it also has dozens of beautiful images as well as the labels of the significant wines that Clarke writes about in this historical overview.

What Clarke has done here is to highlight 100 historically important wines - or trends - that he believes are worth considering when it comes to a broad history of wine. Note that this is not a Top 100 list; there aren't discussions about the 1945 Mouton Rothschild, Petrus or Latour in this book. Rather the author has selected some famous wines as well as famous moments to make his argument.

For example, while specific wines such as the 1915 Vega Sicilia and 1979 Opus One are among the 100 entries, Clarke is more interested in milestone moments on the history timeline. Thus entries include "The Modern Wine Bottle - 1740s", "The Concept of Chateau - 1855-1870s",  a look at the famed Bordeaux classification and its role in pricing, as well as "Robert Mondavi & The Rebirth of Napa - 1966", and "Central Otago - Furthest South - 1987" about the birth of this marvelous wine district on New Zealand's South Island.

Clarke also discusses "International Consultants - 1980s and 1990s", about consulting winemakers such as Michel Rolland and Stéphane Derenoncourt, who became overnight celebrities for their work in Bordeaux and around the world; and of course, the influence of Robert Parker (who was one of the biggest cheerleaders for these consultants), is another chapter in Clarke's book.

The author doesn't only single out the so-called great wines, as he also writes about bag-in-box wines, white zinfandel and screw caps. I love the fact that Clarke has included these topics, as they are certainly an important part of wine's history; it also shows that he isn't so caught up with famed chateaux or hilltop Napa Valley estates - the balance of this book between celestial wines and everyday ones is admirable.

So too is Clarke's writing style. I've read several of his books over the years (full admission - I did a modest amount of research for one of his books many years ago) and have always loved the way that he doesn't take himself too seriously. Even better is his honest and often quirky approach to his subject. Writing about bag-in-box wines, he pens:

Getting the last glass of wine out is not always easy. You can just cut the bag open and drain the dregs. But that means you won't be able to enjoy the bag to the full since, when it's empty, you can blow it full of air - and it becomes a very comfortable pillow.

Where else would you find text such as that?

From the beginning of wine production some 6000 years ago to the invention of sparkling wine in the 1660s through the 1971 German wine law and up to winemaking in Chile's Atacama Desert as well as the unfortunate tale of fraud with Rudy Kurniawan in 2014, Oz Clarke has woven an entertaining and disarming history of wine. I do disagree with one theory he proposes about some of the wines of Angelo Gaja - this producer, while celebrated, did not make "the best Piedmont wine a Piedmontese could make", as he writes - but that is a minor criticism of this book. Each chapter is only two pages, so it's an easy read, but more importantly, it's a brilliant tale of the highs, lows and wonders of wine over the course of several millennia. I've never read a more entertaining history book on any subject. Highly Recommended


The History of Wine in 100 Bottles
By Oz Clarke
Sterling Epicure
Hardcover - 224 pages

order here