Fascinating Time in Wine: 2008 Bordeaux Futures

 I wrote a blog post about the 2008 Bordeaux futures campaign yesterday afternoon, with the intention of posting it today. I won’t be able to post it now. It was about how the 2008 futures are now available, and how the story up until this point has been less about the wine itself, and more about the reductions in price the 2008′s have seen compared to the 2007′s.

 I was headed for the exit yesterday evening with a smile andfeeling of accomplishment, wondering if there if there was anywherestill open where I could get a haircut, when I was paged over thestore PA system. They needed me back at the office. We had suddenlyreceived a whole bunch of futures orders all at once. The assumptionwas that one of the big wine publications had released their 2008barrel tasting notes, complete with scores, that guide Bordeauxinvestors in their en primeur purchases.

Interesting Press

 Robert Parker of The Wine Advocate had indeedreleased his reviews last evening. The scores he gives the wines ofthis vintage are much higher than anticipated from early press andvintage reports, and average out to be higher than the reviews givenby James Suckling of Wine Spectator. A quick scan of Parker’s notes show statements like “The 2008 Lafite Rothschild is one of the most profound young wines I have ever tasted” and “Damn me for saying it, but I actually think the 2008 Latour will turn out to be even better than the 2005 or 2000.” He puts particular emphasis on the Pomerol commune.

 Mr Parker’s reviews holda noticeable sway in the wine public’s opinion – we felt it here atBinny’s in the form of a surge of purchases. I don’t mean to question Parker’s credibility. He has proven himself a valued and influential voice in the wine world and is a cornerstone of wine journalism.


This is a fascinating time to be in wine

 Up until yesterday afternoon, the conversation has beenabout how, as a reaction to the global economic crisis, most enprimeur pricing for 2008 Bordeaux has taken a significant dropfrom 2007 levels, driving sales. Bordeaux prices rose after 2005′s amazing vintage, and remained high despite the average 2006 vintage and lackluster 2007.

 The need for lower pricing for the 2008 vintage is reflected in Suckling’snotes, and is the conclusion of Parker’s article as well. ButParker’s scores lend increased demand to the vintage, in additionto the already lowered prices. It will be interesting to see howthe wine market reacts to this.

 Will 2008 prices stay low? Will there ever be a consensus onthe wines of 2008? Can Bordeaux pricing affect the prices of otherwines from all around the world? Why were producers willing to lower their prices so if the vintage is as amazing as billed? How will this affect thehigher-priced and mostly unreleased 2007′s and 2006′s? Will differingopinions affect wine journalism, or the public’s opinion thereof?


By the way

 Check out the listof 2008 Bordeaux futures Binny’s is offering, and be sure to notethat we are still offering futures pricing on 2007′sand select 2006′s.

Values from Italy

 Italian Wine Month here at Binny’s isdrawing to a close French Wine Month is on its way but Idon’t think it’s too late to point out a few great values from ItalyI’ve been lucky enough to taste lately. These wines all representgood everyday values, and are in good enough supply that you shouldbe able to actually find a few bottles to try.


Five Italian Reds For Cheap


2004 Guadagni Arielle $9.99

 This Tuscan red shows a pretty, light,perfumed nose. On the palate it is autumnal in nature lighttannin supporting soft fruit. Compared to the younger wines at thistasting, the Arielle shows a lot of grace.


2007 Guadagni Chianti $7.99

 The Chianti is the younger yet bigger siblingto the Arielle. The nose is immediately deeper, with a big herbalquality. Less intricate but more powerful, with big tannins, this isan inexpensive Tuscan red built for aging, or enjoying now with foodlike hearty cheese.


2004 Silvio Grasso Nebbiolo d’Alba $15.99

 The main focal point of this fantasticvalue is the tannins rough, almost sandy, or jagged like adistorted guitar. The good red fruit shines through on the nose, andis present on the palate, but only under those massive, grippytannins. It’s still quite youthful. Available in somewhat limitedquantities.


2007 Valle RealeMontepulciano d’Abruzzo Vigne Nuove $12.99

 An interestingnose with hints of crème brulee floating just above blueberry andpepper. I suspect there’s an amount of residual sugar; the VigneNuove is heavy and thick and almost sweet, sort of like a littleamarone. While there are some tannins, it’s softer and easy to drink.The real beauty in this great value is in the nose.


2007 Morgante Nerod’Avola $16.99

 Another wine thatcatches my attention with an interesting nose showing brighterfruit than I expected (comparing this to the 2006 Colosi Nerod’Avola, which I found underwhelming, heavy and maybe a littlebaked…bleh) with a meaty, gamy spiciness from my childhood mydad’s venison summer sausage. On the palate is big fruit, healthyamounts of earthiness and BIG tannins. From my scribbled notes:WOW.


And Just for the record

 I’m a pretty cynicalguy when it comes to inexpensive Italian reds. Maybe I’ve just beenexposed to too many imbalanced cheap Italian wines with low fruit andhigh acidity. So when I say that these are good values, and are worththe time and money, I actually mean it.


Binny’s Exclusive: Thatcher’s Organic Liqueurs

Arriving today exclusively at Binny’s are Thatcher’s Organic Liqueurs, aline of distinctly flavored USDA Certified Organic liqueurs.


The ingredients forThatcher’s Liqueurs are certified organic and sustainably farmed. The liqueurs are bottled in recycled materials. Founder Dave Racicotspent over a year searching for all the right all naturalingredients, combining flavors and testing recipes, and working withthe USDA to ensure an excellent organic liqueur.


Organic, all natural, andsustainable are all fine, but what matters is the flavor.  As it turns out, they’re pretty good.


The Blueberry Liqueur, for example,pours a light, hazy pink. The nose offers light fresh berry and RedVines candy. On the palate the flavor almost explodes with lots ofblueberry and under that a tiny bit of mint. While a little too sweetand flavorful on its own for me, the blueberry is ideal for mixing. It’sespecially good in sparkling water with a little citrus vodka for alight, fresh drink without the overbearingly syrupy sweetness of alot of the liqueur on the shelves today.


The Elderflower Liqueur isa pale translucent yellow. It has a floral nose of pollen and gardenscents. The palate reflects this light, sweet, freshly herbalquality. While the Blueberry is more prominent on the palate, theElderflower’s best feature is the aromatics. I enjoyed a splash in agood bourbon on the rocks I used Evan Williams Single Barrel it really opens up the aromatics and softens the whiskey for aclassic cocktail.


Thatcher’s Liqueurs come across aslightly sweet. Dave explained that the sweetness comes from thefruit and herbs naturally, and when needed, organic evaporated canejuice is used for balance. The alcohol is balanced at 30 proof tomaintain the freshest possible flavor, and while no preservatives areused, he says that Thatcher’s keeps its flavor for up to 18 months.


It struck me that besidesmixing in drinks, Thatcher’s will shine as a flavoring in cooking. Iasked Dave about this. I love the idea of cooking withThatcher’s, he says. I have had some friends in SF use the DarkChocolate in desserts, Tres Chiles was added to some Mexican dishesas a pepper heat marinade.


Personally, I’d like totry the Tres Chiles in a dark chocolate dessert.


Binny’s is excited aboutreleasing the new line of Thatcher’s Organic Artisan Liqueurs. Checkout the complete list of flavors available exclusively at Binny’shere.  Keep an eye out for new expressions soon depending on theavailability of organic produce, of course.


Tony Magee to Appear at Binny’s

Yesterday I listed just some of the events we have planned for craft beer month at Binny’s, which will take place during the entire month of May. Today I’d like to announce even more events geared toward the craft beer lover. Tony Magee, head brewer and owner of Lagunitas, is going to be in town and hanging out at several Binny’s. Along with 500 plus other beers, all of Tony’s Lagunitas branded beers will be on sale during the month of May at Binny’s.


Starting May 6th at the Binny’s in St. Charles, Tony will be signing bottles from 2:00-3:00 p.m., which will coincide with a tasting. During the evening of May 6th, Tony will head to the Binny’s in Lakeview where he will jam out on his guitar from 6:00-6:30 p.m., and sign bottles from 6:30-7:00 p.m. On Thursday, May 7th, Tony will be at the South Loop store to sign bottles and hold a tasting from 5:00-6:00 p.m. To culminate Tony’s tour of Binny’s, he will appear at the Glen Ellyn store Friday, May 8th from 2:00-3:00 p.m. to sign bottles and host a tasting.


What’s better than a meet and greet with brew master while drinking his highly acclaimed brews? These are sure to be titillating events, and the fact that Tony is a gifted musician and will be performing at at least one of the tastings/signings makes these events even more noteworthy.


Besides Tony Magee coming to town, there are numerous other things to get excited about regarding Lagunitas. Two new beers from Lagunitas are slated to hit Binny’s during the month of May. Correction Ale is an American IPA and will be available in 22 oz bottles. Next is a brand new summer seasonal which will be available in six packs, but Lagunitas is “not really sure yet what this one will be…” Maybe we can squeeze some information out of Tony regarding this beer when he comes to Binny’s. Besides the two new beers coming out, Lagunitas has the Undercover Investigation Shut Down Ale as their latest seasonal, which is an incredible “Imperial Mild,” and is still available at Binny’s. Lagunitas also recently released their Maximus double IPA in six packs, which was previously only available in the 22 oz bottles. To top things off, Lagunitas finally brought Hop Stoopid to Illinois, which is “so hoppy that it threatens to remove the enamel from one’s teeth.” As you can see, all is well in the Lagunitas world. Does anyone have any thoughts, comments, or questions regarding Lagunitas? Better yet has anyone ever hung out with Tony Magee or a notable brew master?



Craft Beer Month Preview

As many of you know, the month of April has been Belgian beer month at Binnys. We thought April was a perfect time to honor the cutting edge work that Belgian brewers have been doing for centuries. The sales and recognition of great beer and brewing techniques is going to end in terms of Belgium come May, as the spotlight shifts to the United States. For the month of May, Binnys is going to honor American craft brewers by putting over five hundred beers brewed in the states on sale.


The scope of the craft beer sale is eye popping. From the east to the west coast and everything in between, this monster of a sale will have something for everyone. Since American craft brewers encompass every conceivable style into their brewing techniques, you will find things like Belgian style ales of Brewery Ommegang and German inspired lagers like the new Metropolitan beers on sale. If these two breweries dont wet your lips, maybe one of the fifty plus other breweries featured for craft beer month will, such as Lagunitas, Three Floyds, Bells, and Southern Tier.


Binnys has a number of tastings lined up to coincide with the colossal sale on craft beer in the month of May. We are kicking off craft beer month with a big taste low alcohol beer tasting in Glen Ellyn on Friday, May 1st from 6:00-8:00 p.m. This tasting will cover over 100 beers that are under 6% alcohol. Be sure to head to Skokie next for the best of the midwest beer tasting on Saturday, May 9th from 1:00-4:00 p.m. On Saturday, May 16th from 1:00-4:00 p.m., we have two fantastic tastings scheduled. Plainfield will host a summer beer tasting, while Highland Park will host a “grand” beer tasting that will consist of just about everything. To bring craft beer month to a culmination and possibly a climax, Willowbrook will host a beer and cheese pairing on Thursday, May 28th from 5:00-8:00 p.m., and Des Plaines will have a best of the U.S.A. tasting on Saturday, May 30th from 1:00-4:00 p.m.


Hopefully you are as stoked about the month of May as we are. The weather should be affable, the beer will be on sale, and the tastings will be dynamite. If you attend one of the tastings or plan on being present at one of them, wed love to hear your feedback. Cheers!

A Gem of a Beer Department in Algonquin

You may be wondering why there has been a lack of beer blog posts lately.  For the past five days, I have been working furiously on the beer department in our newest Binnys, located in Algonquin.  Yesterday afternoon, corporate beer buyer Ted Sullivan, Algonquin beer buyer Jim Kube and I completed the task we started at 8:00 a.m. on Monday morning.  The hard work resulted in one of the most beautiful individual beer departments in all of Binnys.


The Algonquin beer department is exquisite.  You will hit upon beers here that are unavailable anywhere else in the area, such as the Flossmoor station beers.  Heck the Flossmoor IPA itself is somewhat of a rarity anywhere, but a fresh batch of 15 cases is stacked tall and proud in our new store.  Besides the Flossmoor beers, you will find every beer that is available in the area in the Algonquin beer department.  If you cant find it here, chances are you wont stumble on it anywhere else in the neighborhood.


If you are planning on doing your beer shopping in Algonquin, be sure to seek out Jim Kube.  Besides being as jolly and helpful as they come, he has a very impressive knowledge of beer.  He will be glad to answer any and all beer inquiries.  If Jim isnt around, be sure to seek out the General Manager Steve Smets, who also has an expansive knowledge of beer.  If Jim or Steve cant answer your beer question, you will be hard pressed to find someone that can.


Ted, Jim, and I are very proud of what was accomplished in Algonquin.  We hope that if you are in the area you will drop in and see for yourself what all the hype is about.



Spotlight on L’Ecole No 41

In the wine business, when it rains, itpours. I was starting to run out of wines to blog about for a whilethere, but this week I was able to attend several different tradetastings with hundreds of wines. Expect plenty of commentary in thecoming weeks – as soon as I can translate my incoherent andunintelligeable scribbled tasting notes into somethingunderstandable, of course.



Spotlight on L’Ecole No 41

One winery that caught my attention isL’Ecole No 41,a smaller producer in the Walla Walla Valley of Washington State. Thewinery’s odd name comes from its location ecole beingFrench for school the winery building is an oldschoolhouse in local school district 41. You’ll see this schooltheme in their wines and labels, which feature different artisticrenderings of the schoolhouse building, and chalkboards, and so on.


In my experience, Washington statewines have represented a great value wines I’ve tasted from thearea have shown restraint, neither focusing too much of excessivefruit extraction nor leaning too far toward powerhouse tannin. Theresult is a general style of balance approachable, affordablewines.


The wine that best stood out from thisproducer is also the least expensive – The 2007L’Ecole No 41 Semillon (a pleasant surprise!). Itis very bright and shows great acidity, with a broad, layered nose.On the palate, it shows wonderful ripeness, roundness, a rich oilytexture; a different expression than some other, more expensivesemillon from other parts of the globe. On Binny’s shelves every dayat $15.99. Stephen Tanzer refers to the Semillon as an excellentvalue. I couldn’t agree more. If you like fresh, complex, uniqueand fun whites, try this one.


The 2007L’Ecole No 41 Chardonnay is also quite good itoffers a little creaminess on the nose along with some good, brightfruit. On the palate, a balanced use of oak and bright tropicalfruits. It’s bright and refreshing, and $19.99 a value comparedto some similar Chardonnay from California.


Both the 2006Cabernet Sauvignon and 2005 Merlot show good,balanced oak integration baking spices and vanilla along withgood fruit. The nose on the Cabernet might be a little muted rightnow, but it’s great on the palate with ripe dark raspberry-type fruit(um… Bramble berry? Berry fruit that grows on brambles? Right?)while the merlot remains a little lighter. Both are $26.99, and themerlot is only available at select Binny’s locations.


I don’t want to completely dismiss thehigher-end cuvees from L’Ecole No 41 the Apogeeand Perigee, and other single-vineyard varietalbottles L’Ecole produces these are all very good as well, andoften receive good reviews, but aren’t readily available. Though weget some of the cuvees here at Binny’s from time to time, they don’trepresent quite the same value that the less-expensive varietalbottlings offer. Still, if you get the chance to try any of thehigher-end wines from L’Ecole, jump at the chance.

The Tribune’s Beer of the Month

The Chicago Tribune recently announced that its beer of the month is Capital Maibock. This is a solid choice and coincides adequately with springtime, as maibocks are usually released during this time of the year. I fully agree with the writers selection of Capital Maibock to represent the beer of the month. Check out the online version of the Chicago Tribune article, where you will find a great description of the Capital Maibock.

The Tribune mentiond that maibocks are usually released in May, and while May is the month in which maibocks are celebrated in Germany, the fact of the matter is that many maibocks have been on the market since the beginning of March, including the Capital Maibock. Einbecker Mai-Ur-Bock and Sprecher Maibock are two other examples of stellar maibocks that hit the market in early March. Two popular German maibocks, Hofbrau and Altenmunster, have yet to hit the market. Perhaps the most famous maibock of them all, Rogue Dead Guy Ale, is crafted and available year round. It seems as if American craft breweries making maibocks dont follow the German tradition of releasing maibocks in May, and often times release them months earlier. By the time May rolls around, almost all of American breweries will be done producing their spring seasonals, and will already have their summer beers on the market.

As far as the maibock style goes, it is usually lighter in color with a pronounced hop character when compared to a regular bock. Regular bocks are usually darker in color, with more of a malt character. Both the maibock and bock are bottom fermenting lagers that are usually a bit high in alcohol, usually anywhere from 6-8% ABV.

Do you think that Capital Maibock is worthy of being declared the beer of the month, or is there a different maibock that you think is superior to Capitals version of the style?

Are you Ready for a Smack-Down?

A new day has dawned, peace and love are in the air, and all is right with the world. Everywhere, that is, except for Binnys in Lake Zurich, where Pinot Noir from around the world are gathering for a take no prisoners, last wine standing Smack-Down! Thursday night, April 16th the fine wine world will erupt in conflict that will pit country versus country and quite possibly a civil war to find a victor. For those willing to bear witness to this event, here is an overview of the competitors.

France – Home to Burgundy and some of the greatest Pinot Noir in the world, France seems sadly out manned in this Smack-Down. Their big gun is a must try Premier Cru from Chateau Chorey of the stellar 2005 vintage. France also has a couple of wonderful value wines from Jadot and Parent, but sadly, the numbers dont seem to add up for France in this competition.

New Zealand – Pinot Noirs from New Zealand have been improving greatly over the last several years, with a style more similar to Burgundy than California. At their best, they have great intensity and balance, with good acidity that bodes well for ageing. This can all be said for the 2006 Dog Point Pinot Noir, the star this night for New Zealand. Supporting roles from Allan Scott and Wild Rock will help the cause, but much like France, New Zealand doesnt seem to have the fire power on this night.

Oregon – Now things begin to get interesting. Oregon comes blazing out of the chute with four single vineyard offerings from Ken Wright, one of the best Pinot producers in Oregon. One of these vineyards, Shea, will also be represented by Raptor Ridge from the excellent 2006 vintage. Other standouts for Oregon include Lemelson, Elk Cove, Gypsy Dancer and Ponzi. While California is often about power, Oregon is all about finesse and elegance. With this line-up, it is no surprise there have been whispers of an upset.

California – Here is the favorite, with both numbers and star power, but can they perform under pressure? Duckhorn leads the way with their Goldeneye (2006) and Migration (2007) Pinots from Anderson Valley, which is considered a premier area for growing Pinot. Roar, a big dramatic wine from the Santa Lucia Highlands, will be on hand, along with wines from the Russian River Valley like Iron Horse and Paul Hobbs. We will also get a sneak peak at the much heralded 2007 vintage with new releases from Melville, Brewer Clifton, Belle Glos Clark & Telegraph Vineyard, and more!

So you be the judge, April 16th at 6:30 P.M: just you, 50 wines, and the fate of the wine world on your shoulders.

Samuel Adams Longshot

For the past three years, the Boston Beer Company, makers of Samuel Adams products, have held a Longshot contest in which contestants submit their homebrew for judging. The winners have a chance to get their beer brewed and bottled by the Boston Beer Company and distributed in six packs. I finally had a chance to try the Sam Adams Longshot beers, which arrived in stores late last week.


The Longshot six packs contain three different home brews, with two bottles of each included in the six- pack. The first is 2007s winner, a Double IPA created by Mike McDole. Next is 2008s winner, a Traditional Bock created by Alex Drobshoff. Also included is a Cranberry Wit created by Carissa Sweigart, winner of the 2008 homebrew contest for Boston Beer Company employees.


Cranberry Wit, 5% ABV

I drank this one first out of the three for obvious reasons. The Cranberry Wit is light, refreshing, and an all around easy drinking beer. Carissas brew was inspired by hometown ingredients. It is actually one of the better wit beers I have yet to encounter, which admittedly is not my favorite type of beer, yet I do appreciate the style. It is not overly spiced like I think some wit beers are, even though it is spiced with “a blend of cinnamon, orange peel, coriander and grains of paradise, and finished with a touch of cranberry.” I definitely picked up on the touch of cranberry, which coincided with a pleasant yet mild tartness. Overall the Cranberry Wit was a very smooth and pleasant experience.


Traditional Bock, 6.8% ABV

I popped open this refreshing German inspired Bock immediately after finishing the Cranberry Wit. The description on the six pack claims “this is a great beer to linger over on a cool evening.” I would agree with the part about the beer being great, but there was no lingering on it for me, as it went down rapidly and effortlessly. It is a vibrant copper color, with so called “plum and cherry aromas” which were evident. I would agree with the claim that it is “full- bodied” and “complex,” as I picked up on things like caramel, toasted malt, and a nutty flavor to go along with complex fruits. I was drinking this brew with a friend, and we kept talking about how we thought we had tasted this exact beer before, but we couldnt put a finger on which beer we thought that was.


Double IPA, 9.6% ABV

The Longshot Double IPA is long awaited for a number of reasons. First off, it was the winner of the contest in 2007, and was expected to be released last year. It seems that the Boston Beer Company ran into a bit of trouble sourcing the “ingredients needed to provide a true representation of his recipe.” This is not surprising considering Mike McDole used seven different varieties of American hops to create this Double IPA, which also encompassed over six pounds of hops per barrel. Rumor also has it that this beer is a Pliny clone, giving us beer lovers who dont live on the west coast a glimpse of the celebrated brew from Russian River Brewing Company.


As far as the beer goes, it was an impressive Double IPA to say the least. I saved it for last because most of the time Double IPAs are pallet killers, and frankly, I would have not gotten as much out of the previous two beers if I had drank them after this one. I was slapped in the face by the hops, but also noted the floral notes on the body and the hints of citrus accompanying the intensely bitter finish. I highly recommend trying this beer with aged cheddar, such as Widmers, which I was eating while consuming this beer. The cheese mellowed out the bitterness, creating a very smooth experience not usually associated with an extremely hoppy Double IPA.


This was an all around satisfying experience for me, and has given me inspiration to get my act together and finally start my next batch of homebrew. I recommend picking up a sixer of this if you are looking for some stimulation to homebrew, or if you just fancy some beers to take pleasure in. Make sure you come in soon though, as supplies are limited and being accounted for rapidly.


Has anyone out there ever submitted bottles to the Longshot contest, or brewed a beer that they thought was esteemed enough to be a champion? Better yet, do you think that the three beers included in the Longshot six- pack are worthy representations of the finest home brews in the world?