Recently a friend asked me if I do food pairings. I didn’t quite know how to respond – I taste a fair amount of booze and I eat a fair amount of food, but it surprised me how rarely I do both simultaneously. So my honest first response was, “Yeah … I mean, sometimes. Why?”
He asked what I would pair with pitas and hummus and falafel. He probably asked me because I’m a vegetarian. White wine came to mind something light and fresh, and lighter reds like grenache, pinot noir or young tempranillo. Also beer. Beer pairs well with lots of food.
So I thought about it for a while, decided it would be a fun dinner. I cooked everything myself. With my fiancée’s help, of course.
Like anything else, styles in wine are constantly changing. But what does that mean for us tasters, and for our palates?
Last Tuesday this issue came up at a Binny’s wine meeting. We were tasting through some exciting new releases, including the 2006 Tanbark Hill Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon by Philip Togni. It’s sort of a second label bottling, a more affordable cabernet from the famous winemaker.
At first I didn’t think too much about it. My tasting notes go like this: A nose of green herb, very vegetal, like green pepper. Very herbal on the palate, with dry fruit, autumnal, hugely vegetal and tannic.
Like I said, I didn’t think much of it. I didn’t dislike it; it is a good wine, but I hadn’t found it overwhelming. So I was a little surprised when a friend, whose palate I deeply respect and who has had decades of tasting experience, got excited about the Tanbark Hill.
When they hired me years ago, they said that working at Binny’s would be a great learning experience. Then when I took a job in the office, they said the same. When they offered to send me to California, they told me how much I’d learn. This is one of the things that I love about my job, about Binny’s, and about wine in general: there’s always something new to learn.
Last weekend, a group of Binny’s employees headed out to California. We would visit several Gallo facilities – MacMurray Ranch, Frei Ranch, and new to the Gallo portfolio, the William Hill winery. It may surprise you that the Binny’s folks on this trip weren’t the managers and wine buyers (though they do get the opportunity to travel) but were the wine consultants and other employees in the stores who do a lot of the customer interaction. See? It’s that Binny’s emphasis on education.
Sitting in the office next to the Binny’s Australian wine buyer (and fortified wine buyer) affords me some interesting opportunities, so it didn’t seem unusual to me when an Australian-sounding man came into the Australian wine buyer’s office. His name: Nathan Waks, the managing director of the Seppeltsfield winery. The wines he brought with him were anything but ordinary. Thinking about what we tasted, I’m buzzing with excitement. Also caffeine.
The Seppeltsfield winery is a piece of Australian fortified wine history. It was recently sold by Foster’s Group (Lindeman’s, Penfold’s, many more…) and produces some of the most popular fortified wines in Australia under various brand names. Now they’re breaking out internationally with a portfolio of stickies ranging from amazing values to amazingly old.
Looking for an exotic beer that you cant find on the shelves? Look no further than Binnys in the South Loop. The sixteen constantly rotating craft beer taps makes Binny’s in the South Loop one of the premier places to try beers rarely seen on draft. From lighter Pilsners like North Coast Scrimshaw Pils and Victory Prima Pils to yeasty Belgian Guezes like Boon Oude Mariage Parfait, there is no doubt something for everyone.
When we traveled to Binnys in the South Loop after the air and water show yesterday, we were pleased to see not only see a wide variety of beers on tap, but also extremely uncommon offerings, some of which are only offered on tap and not bottled. Fitting into the category of a tap only offering are Sierra Nevada Brown Saison, a very tasty and drinkable brew that we were surprised to learn is 7.85% ABV. Great Lakes Independence Ale is a hoppy amber ale, and is also a draft only offering from the Cleveland brewery.
Oktoberfest beer is beginning to hit our shelves, with Great Lakes and the new to Binny’s Kostritzer Oktoberfest leading the pack as the first two released. Last year Great Lakes Oktoberfest was one of the first to sell out, due to it being limited in production and high in demand. Kostritzer Octoberfest debuted at Binny’s this week, and is a very economical buy at $7.99 a 6-pack.
A huge misconception regarding Oktoberfest beers is that they are actually around in the month of October. While some are still left over during the month they are named after, several of the more popular ones will be long gone by the time the 10th month rolls around. The Germans start celebrating Oktoberfest in mid September, and the world’s largest fair always ends on the first Sunday in October (although the last Sunday is no doubt a mega celebration). This year Oktoberfest will be celebrated from September 19th October 4th.
The economic state of Napa (and pretty much all well established wine producing regions) is hurting. Auction Napa Valley 2008 raised over $10 million. In 2009, they only raised $5.7 million. Some wineries aren’t really feeling the economic pinch, but most are. Throughout my week-long trip, I encountered many industry people struggling in the wine and restaurant businesses. Just about all of them said that business was down.
In my Napa visit in late July, many people at wineries and tasting rooms asked me how Binny’s was doing. I said we were not as frequently selling the higher tier wines, but plenty of the good value, lesser expensive wines.
I usually don’t take the time to point out discounted wines these wines are usually available in limited quantities and sell themselves. But when I tasted the following wines, and then heard the price we’d be selling them, I couldn’t resist at least bringing them to your attention.
Last week, most Binny’s stores received a shipment of two wines from Colonial Estate the 2005 Emigre and Exile. Unfortunately, the Maltus portfolio of wines (of which Colonial Estate is a major component) is no longer distributed in the state of Illinois. But fortunately for you, Binny’s was able to buy up the remaining stock of two of the estate’s flagship wines, and at a great discount. I don’t expect they’ll last long.
Working in the office next to the Binny’s sparkling wine buyer affords me the opportunity to taste a lot of outstanding Champagne. But then, you have to expect Champagne to be good, right? I mean, it’s Champagne! Right?
What’s more exciting is tasting sparkling wine from somewhere else in the world, something with nuance and complexity, and then realizing that it sells for a fraction of the price of Champagne. Here are a few bubblies from other parts of the world that caught my attention recently as especially great values.
One consistent source of value bubbly is the rest of France, the parts that aren’t Champagne. Binny’s just picked up the Baur Cremant d’Alsace Rose, a 100% pinot noir sparkler from Alsace (we’ve carried the Baur Brut for a while – it’s another good one). This bone-dry rose is angular and lean, with hints of mustiness on the nose, leading to a palate of strawberries, light minerality and angular acidity.
Recently, I took my fourth trip to Napa and Sonoma. I visited many wineries and tasted some great wines. The main reason for my trip was an introductory Sommelier course. There was an examination site in Chicago, but if there is any excuse to go to Napa, I’ll make it.
My first visit was Chateau Montelena. Binny’s has recently received a lot of new wines from Montelena. The wines were the real showcase, here.