Thursday, April 26, 2012

Using Technology to Understand Italian Wines

VinItaly Interactive Wine Tasting

The VinItaly US events in Chicago and New York next week - Monday, April 30 and Wednesday, May 2, respectively, are shaping up to be not-to-be-missed events for the Italian wine lover (see details here).

There will be a grand tasting of several hundred wines along with an excellent array of seminars, ranging from restaurant trends to indigenous varieties to in-depth tastings of Prosecco and Valpolicella.

That would be enough for any event to make it special, but the VinItaly organizers are going a step farther for this year's affairs, as they are introducing an interactive wine tasting at these two events. Attendees will be able to use iPads to facilitate education, promotion and consumption of Italian wine.

The process is easy and intuitive, consisting of three steps:

1) Registration: The guest will receive an individual QR card in exchange for his or her business card and then will be able to go freely to the different wine tables/bar with the iPads.

2) Ordering: At the wine table/bar, the visitor can order any wine of the participating exhibitors of the VinItaly Interactive Experience. A sommelier or service person will ask for the QR card to be scanned at the iPad and then serve the requested wine.

3) Tasting: The visitor tastes the selected wine and can choose from different parameters (taste, scent, color, etc.) on the iPad to rate the wine. Afterward, the guest's preferences can either be saved or deleted and can choose to try other wines or finish his VinItaly Interactive Experience. At the end of the tasting, the customer will receive either a print-out of all the wines tested that day or an email with their preferences.

I think this is a great idea, one that should really make this day a unique one. The grand tasting is special enough, as participants will be able to taste some of Italy's finest wines, but now their experience will be even more enlightening, given this new way of using technology.

The VinItaly Interactive Experience will be offering selected wines from Consorzio di Tutela della Denominazione di Origine Controllata Prosecco, and the portfolio of Folio Fine Wine Partners including Arnaldo Caprai, Donnafugata, Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi, Masi Agricola S.p.a. and Villa Sandi.

See you there!

Friday, April 20, 2012

A Dream Realized in Champagne

Excellent fine wines and great spirits selection with low prices.

Bruno Paillard (Photo ©Tom Hyland)

For all you dreamers out there, consider the case of Bruno Paillard. Born in Reims in 1953 and working as a Champagne broker, he sought to establish his own Champagne house. But there had not been a new company opened in Champagne for more than a century. Certainly he had to realize that this could never happen. How could he acquire grapes, for example?

Thankfully, Paillard was stubborn enough to pursue his goal - even going to the point of selling his old MK2 Jaguar in 1981, in order to raise enough capital to start his company. Today, Champagne Bruno Paillard, located on the prestigious Avenue de Champagne in Reims, is a thriving company, one that has remained small (45,000 cases per year) to maintain its high levels of quality.

Paillard was in Chicago recently as part of a national tour for his importer, Vintus. I took a few minutes to speak with him and of course, try his wines. He is a modest man, but also a proud one, as he took the time to explain the errors in the brochure about his wines. These are very particular products and he wanted to make certain that I knew the source of his grapes for these wonderful products. For example, his Blanc de Blancs is now produced exclusively from Grand Cru vineyards, whereas in previous years, this wine also included grapes from Premier Cru sites as well. This is obviously a source of great pride as well to Bruno and he wanted to make sure I knew about it!

Here are notes on four cuvées he tasted out in Chicago:

NV Brut Premiere Cuvée
A blend of 22% Pinot Meunier, 33% Chardonnay and 45% Pinot Noir, made exclusively from juice from the first pressing. Dried pear, quince and biscuit aromas. Medium-bodied with a clean, round finish with very good acidity. Quite tasty- enjoy over the next 3-5 years. (Suggested retail of $40)

NV Brut Rosé Premiere Cuvée
Made primarily from Pinot Noir (85%) with the remainder Chardonnay. Pale salmon color; aromas of pear and strawberry. Clean, elegant finish, very good acidity and complexity. Enjoy over the next 3-5 years. ($50)

NV Blanc de Blancs Réserve Privée Grand Cru 
Dried lemon peel and yellow flower aromas; medium-full with excellent concentration; precise acidity and a long, long finish with a distinct minerality. Quite complex; lovely richness on the palate with beautiful finesse. Enjoy over the the next 5-7 years. Outstanding  ($70)

1999 Brut Millésime Assemblage
Featuring an artist label, this is a blend of 42% Pinot Noir, 29% Chardonnay and 29% Pinot Meunier. Exotic, complex aromas - hints of juniper (!) and marzipan along with a touch of gingerbread. Nicely balanced with very good concentration and ripeness. Good length in the finish with good acidity. Bruno told me that in 1999, the grapes achieved excellent ripeness, however the acidity is lower than in a great vintage, such as 1996, which means that this 1999 will mature at a quicker pace. Enjoy over the next 5-7 years. ($80)

Congratulations to Bruno Paillard for realizing his dream and continuing to craft some of the most elegantly-styled Champagnes in the market today. Like the man himself, these wines are very classy!

Monday, April 16, 2012

VinItaly Tour - Chicago and New York

The VinItaly USA tour is back, this time with events in Chicago and New York. This is always a must for any Italian wine lover, as dozens of producers from all over the country pour their newest releases at the walk around Grand Tasting; in addition, there are sit-down seminars in each city.

The Chicago tasting will take place on Monday, April 30 at the River East Art Center (435 E. Illinois Street). The Grand Tasting will run from 1-5 and is for members of the wine trade. There will also be a Grand Tasting for the public from 6-8:30. Two seminars are also scheduled for that day; the first on restaurant trends and the second on indigenous varieties.

To register for the Chicago event, go to this page.

To purchase tickets for the consumer event, go to this page.

The event in New York City will take place on Wednesday, May 2 at Three Sixty (Tribeca Rooftop), 2 Desbrosses Street. The walk around tasting will run from 2-6. There are also four seminars scheduled for that day, beginning at 11:15- one on restaurant trends and one on brand building and increasing wine sales. The other two will be tasting seminars on Valpolicella and Prosecco.

To register for the New York City event, go to this page.

In addition, on Thursday, May 3 in New York City, there will be the 82 Mercer consumer tasting in partnership with the American Cancer Society's annual Taste of Hope fundraiser.

Whether you want to learn more about your business or merely want to sample hundreds of the finest wines from Italy, this is an event you will not want to miss!

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Vibrant New Wines from New Zealand

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You may not know who Kevin Judd is, but you've probably enjoyed his wines. Judd was the first winemaker at Cloudy Bay, the winery that put New Zealand on the wine map. Judd's wines, especially his Sauvignon Blancs were vibrant, rich, complex and startlingly new. While there are other first-rate Sauvignon Blancs - and other wine types - from New Zealand, it was the notoriety of the Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc that made it possible for other producers in the country to achieve worldwide success.

Kevin Judd

Judd left Cloudy Bay a few years ago and started a new winery called Greywacke (pronounced gray-wacky) sourcing fruit from the Marlborough region not far from the northern tip of New Zealand's South Island. At Greywacke - named for bedrock that is found in vineyards throughout New Zealand -  the focus will be on Sauvignon Blanc along with Pinot Noir and from time to time, a little bit of Gewurztraminer.

The new releases of Greywacke wines are just arriving in the US; I tasted three of them last week with some friends at a wonderful Thai restaurant named Yindee in Chicago; if ever there was a cuisine to pair with tangy, expressive Sauvignon Blanc, this is it! The first wine we tried was the 2011 Sauvignon Blanc. One whiff of this wine and you know instantly the variety you're dealing with, as aromas of gooseberry and lime jump out of the glass. Medium-full, this is very rich on the palate and has zippy acidity and plenty of spice in the finish. If you've never had a Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, here is a classic example of a steel-aged version with all its power and complexity. Enjoy this over the next 2-3 years; it paired perfectly with our shrimp rolls and scallop nuggets. ($20)

Then we moved on to the 2010 Wild Sauvignon, so named as Judd used indigenous or "wild" yeasts for the fermentation of this wine in old French barriques. About two-thirds of the wine underwent malo-lactic fermentation in barrels and afterwards, the wine was transferred out of barrels and left on its lees for a further four months before bottling.

The aromas here are quite intense, though they are somewhat more subtle than the regular wine; there are perfumes of gooseberry and pear that are heavenly. While I normally am not a big fan of Sauvignon Blancs that have been fermented and/or aged in oak, the wood treatment works beautifully with this wine. Wood aging can also add texture to white wine and is there ever richness on the palate with this wine! This has an extremely long finish with outstanding persistence and vibrant acidity; the complexity of this wine is extremely impressive. There is plenty of spice -this certainly held its own paired with red and green curry, not an easy trick - and the wine lingers on in the mouth with amazing varietal purity. One of my dining companions compared this to the finest Pouilly-Fumé he had ever tried; as for myself, in the 30 plus years I have been in the wine business, this is among the three or four finest examples of Sauvignon Blanc I have ever tasted! This is worth every penny of its $30 price tag and I urge you to purchase this wine while it is still available. Congratulations, Kevin!

We finished with the 2010 Pinot Noir, a beautifully made version with rich, ripe black cherry fruit and notable wood notes. If this wine did not impress up initially, well, it would be difficult for just about any wine to do that after the two examples of Sauvignon. However, the wine did open up nicely after thirty minutes, revealing a more floral side to the aromas. The tannins are nicely balanced and there is good acidity. We all agreed that the wine is just a bit too young and that another year in the bottle would do wonders. This wine, incidentally, was a fine accompaniment to various types of Thai soup. ($40).

P.S. I did meet Kevin Judd about eight or nine years ago in New Zealand and found him to be a very down-to-earth, humble person. He wouldn't go out of his way to tell you this, but he also happens to be one of the world's greatest vineyard photographers. In fact, the gorgeous photos of leaves and grapes that grace the Greywacke labels are by Kevin and they make for a striking package. Kevin and I, by the way, have the same photo agent, so we love talking about photography just as much as about wine. Believe me, I learn a lot about both topics from Kevin!

Monday, April 9, 2012

Italian Wine and Thai Food - a class/dinner

Italian wines are meant for food and given the array of varieties used throughout the country, it's easy to see that there are all sorts of Italian wines that pair well with a wide array of cuisines. I've paired hundreds of Italian wines with all types of foods, both by myself at home as well as with friends at local restaurants in Chicago.

Some of my favorite pairings are with Thai food, so I thought I'd put together an impromptu wine class/dinner to show how certain Italian wines mesh with this type of cuisine. This will be this Thursday, April 12 at 7:00. We'll taste white, red and sparkling this evening. (P.S. This is in Chicago, by the way.)

Email me for details and I'll let you know the location and other information (this will be at a north side Thai restaurant). We'll keep this small (6 or 7 people) and the estimated cost will be about $30 per person. This will be an informative, fun and above all, delicious, evening of wine and food!

Send me an email and I'll let you know more.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

A Dazzling Meal at Trump Tower in Chicago

Filet of Dover Sole
Warm Carrot and Ginger Nage with Ossetra Caviar,
Preserved Lemon and Petite Spring Vegetables
16 Resturant, Trump Tower, Chicago
Chef Thomas Lents

Last week I enjoyed one of the most memorable meals in my life at 16 Restaurant at Trump Tower in Chicago. The new menu, which has been in place only a few weeks, is the creation of Chef Thomas Lents, who came to Trump from Joel Robuchon Restaurant at the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas. In fact, Lents was the very first American to serve as chef de cuisine for Robuchon, which testifies to his talent as well as to why Trump wanted him as their chef in Chicago.

Dining at 16 Restaurant is a pretty special experience to start with as this is a gorgeous cathedral-like room of high ceilings and glass that offer the diner spectacular views of the Chicago River and Lake Michigan; at that height, you're also face to face with the famous clock tower of the Wrigley Building. Visitors I've talked to at the restaurant love this panorama and as a life-long Chicagoan, I never tired of the view; it's just another small piece of evidence as to the remarkable beauty of our city.

The previous meal I enjoyed here some five months earlier was excellent (read here); two courses with foie gras certainly added to my pleasure (and my waistline); service all around was attentive and I came away not only satisfied with my meal, but also thinking that here was a restaurant that deserved greater acclaim.

Now after enjoying Chef Lents' cuisine, I am convinced this is an outstanding, perhaps great restaurant. The asparagus tarte is served with Serrano ham and has a tuile of parmesan as the base; the saltiness of the parmesan was a perfect foil for the Ruinart Blancs de Blancs. The combination of the rabbit confit served on small toast (which you eat with your fingers) with the pea soup meshed perfectly as did all the flavors of the dover sole with a carrot and ginger nage, served with Ossetra caviar and baby carrots. This is a spectacular dish that has a remarkable array of flavors, all of which harmonize beautifully in an entrée that is light as a feather.

I gave wine director Rachael Lowe carte blanche in selecting my wines and as usual, she outdid herself. Her choice of the 2005 Arnaud Ente Meursault "La Goutte d'Or" with the pea soup was nothing short of brilliant, while her selection of a 2006 Martin Schaetze Pinot Gris (vibrant and powerful) was likewise inspired. When you dine at 16, you must take advantage of Rachael's extraordinary talent for pairing the proper wine with your food; she's great at it and she also happens to be one of the most engaging people I've met anywhere in this industry.

So congratulations to Chef Thomas Lents on his inspired cuisine and compliments to everyone at 16 Restaurant, as this was a great evening; the service was amazing - attentive and friendly with just the right attention to detail. In closing, let me say that I've dined at Michelin two-star restaurants in Europe; based on this meal, 16 Restaurant deserves those same two stars.

16 Restaurant
Trump International Hotel and Tower
401 N. Wabash, Chicago
Reservations: 1-877-458-7867

Lunch daily from 11:30 to 2:30 PM
Dinner: Sunday to Wednesday from 5:30 to 9:30
Thursday to Saturday from 5:30 to 10:00 PM

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Here We Go Again

____ (fill in the year) is the greatest vintage ever for _____ (fill in the wine)

Yes, we're reading reports about the "greatest modern vintage ever" (whatever that means!) from one infamous wine writer reporting about new releases of Brunello di Montalcino. Then there's another even more celebrated wine writer who has gone gaga over the 2009 Bordeaux, awarding almost 20 of them with perfect 100-point scores in his publication. You may be able to figure out who these writers are, but I'm not about to name them to give them any more publicity.

Doubtless, there will be people out there who relish this sort of news, so if they want to spend their money on these wines, so be it. But let's sort this out. Regarding the new reports of greatness from Montalcino, 2006 and 2007 are excellent vintages; depending on whether you want a more approachable, elegant wine now (2007) or prefer a more classically structured vintage that will age longer (2006), your preference will fall in line with that stylistic difference.

But is either 2006 or 2007 for Brunello better than 2001 or 1999, two outstanding vintages in my opinion (as well as many other journalists that have been reporting on these wines for more than a decade)? One can argue that and of course, it's not a question of right or wrong. But let's face facts- you can't (with rare exception) buy the marvelous examples of Brunello di Montalcino from 1999 or 2001 anymore. Those wines, at least as far as current coverage, represent ancient history. That's in the past; it's 2006 and 2007 that are out there now, so those are the wines that all of a sudden are among the finest ever. Retailers love this as it's more sales for them in the short term and for the writers who publish this stuff, it's some immediate attention. Some of these writers have loyal followings, so they're the Pied Piper- anything they say, their minions will blindly believe. Yes, 2006 and 2007 are great years for Brunello, but they're not as good as 1999 and 2001. I'm repeating myself, but I want to emphasize how all of this stuff can occur in today's world of instant pleasure.

As for Bordeaux, perhaps this makes more sense, because very few people I know actually buy the first and second growths- who can afford them? So maybe these people need reassurance before they plunk down $400-700 a bottle. All I know is that you can't go higher than 100 points (at least not yet), so what happens the next time there's a vintage of the century in Bordeaux?

As for me, I think I'll try some wine from New Zealand tonight- funny how you never hear about "vintages of the century" there. It's just about the pleasure of trying these wines with food, as they were meant to be enjoyed.