Inexpensive Bordeaux: An Oxymoron???

Bordeaux is one of the most prestigious wine growing regions in the world. It is tough finding that inexpensive gem from Bordeaux, mainly because they are not rated by major critics. Everyone thinks red when they think about Bordeaux. The white wines, including Sauternes are wines that should be explored as well. The dessert wines of Bordeaux are some of the most long lived wines produced, and the prices do not fluctuate heavily from vintage to vintage. Inexpensive Bordeaux should also be treated like an expensive Bordeaux.

The five main red varietals of Bordeaux are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec. You Meritage fans should look at Bordeaux in your next visit to Binny’s. There is only one way to find a good inexpensive Bordeaux. Taste. With any young red Bordeaux, the wine will need air. My first experience with Bordeaux was terrible, then great because I revisited a wine 12 hours later. It does not matter if you spend $10 on a 2005 Bordeaux Superior or $1900 on a 2005 Chateau Latour, it needs to breathe before consumption. Decanting or aeration will do the trick. If you don’t like the wine after 3 hours, try it the next day.


Red Recommendations:

2005 Chateau des Judes: An absolute steal at $7.99. The wine is very fruit forward and well balanced.


2005 Chateau Brulesecaille: This is a Merlot based blend that drinks a lot better than its $15.99 price point. It will not disappoint.  Great quality!


The non-dessert white wines of Bordeaux can be light and crisp to oaky and waxy. The main white varietals of Bordeaux are Semillion, Sauvignon Blanc and a little bit of Muscadelle. If you like Sauvignon Blanc, I would definitely recommend trying a young, white Bordeaux.


White Recommendations:

2008 Graville Lacoste: This is a great pick with shellfish. There is a lot of citrus flavor and it has very refreshing acidity.  Look for the 2007 on our shelves as well.


2007 Grand Bourdieu: This has more toasty, leesy flavors along with a mineral driven, ripe finish.  Quantities are limited.


The dessert wines of Bordeaux can be amazing. The grapes in Sauternes and Barsac are naturally infected with a mold called Botrytis Cinerea, also known as Noble Rot. The mold reduces the moisture in the grape and intensifies the sugars and flavors of the finished product. The harvesting of one vine will produce a single glass of Sauternes or Barsac.


Sauternes Recommendations:


2006 Les Charmes de Rieussec: This is the second label of Chateau Rieussec, which is one of the second best producers in Sauternes. (The best being Chateau d’Yquem.) You get a sense of the Botrytis from this wine. You’ll get flavors of saffron and honey in the nose. This is a great value at $12.99.


2005 La Tour Blanche: This is a great valued, first growth Sauternes. This will age 20 plus years and beyond. There is nothing wrong with it right now, however.


Sauternes is an extremely sweet wine. A little bit will go a long way. Enjoy with bleu cheese, foie gras or fresh fruits.

I hope you get to try these wines from Bordeaux.

Food Pairing: At a Chinese BYO

  My fiancee and I found ourselves heading to a local Chinese restaurant, popular for their delicious and modern  Asian cuisine and also their $5 corkage fee. We had dined there before, with a large group of friends (many of whom brought 1.5L bottles of wine to maximize the wine from each cork). What I mostly remembered about the food was the heavy use of sauces, and the sauces being a touch on the salty side.

  What wine should we take? My first recommendation for pairing with Chinese is almost always a  crisp, refreshing white (perhaps an Alsatian). On our last visit, once I realized it was a BYO place, I ran down the street to a corner liquor store and picked up a bottle of inexpensive Argentinian torrontes which had paired really well. But then I over-thought the whole thing, instead suggesting a bottle of 2006 Southern Gothic Poor Thing Grenache I had squirreled away. The fiancee is a big fan of grenache, and the right one can pair wonderfully with spicy sauces.

  It turns out that the Poor Thing Grenache is a delicious wine, if not the fat grenache you might expect from Barossa. As I mentioned here, after trying the Southern Gothic Shiraz, I was worried that the grenache might even be too rustically styled, despite the fact that it comes from R Wines, known for their plush reds.

  The wine shows excellent restraint and balance. It is medium bodied, with tart and dusty red cherries, lots of spice, light touches of vanilla and toffee, and a long, graceful finish. It isn’t plush, but it is balanced and charming. At first the alcohol screams out (the label says 15%!) but it recedes after a few minutes in the glass, allowing the vanilla and toffee notes to shine through. Also, as you can see in the picture, this glass wasn’t ideal for the wine, and I think it handicapped the nose a little bit.

  To make a (slightly sexist?) personification of this wine: it is the girl next door, plain-looking at first, who gets prettier and more charming the more you get to know her.

  The food: This time, we started with vegetable pot stickers, mildly spicy fried vegetable pockets served with mildly spicy sauce. They were excellent with the grenache: the wine was just juicy enough to compliment the spicy dish, and being relatively low in tannin, it didn’t compete.

  For our main course, we ordered something called “Temple’s Feast,” an earthy vegetable dish with an emphasis on several different kinds of mushrooms (the shiitake are especially delicious) in a light sauce, and also the “Garlic Tofu With Eggplant,” a spicy dish of hard-seared tofu and eggplant (better than it sounds) in a thick, spicy sauce vaguely reminiscent of barbecue sauce.

  The Poor Thing Grenache complimented the mushroom dish quite well, the earthy flavors of the food under the lighter cherry of the wine, and the toffee to shine through. The sauce was oily, the fat cutting back any hard edge the wine might have had. The garlic tofu dish was just spicy and salty enough that it did conflict with the grenache, the two flavors competing, the spice and acidity coming into focus just a little too much, to the point of being harsh.

  So the pairing was okay, not perfect, but also not a letdown. My fiancee liked the Poor Thing enough that I was given permission to buy more. I suggested that a more plush grenache might have paired a little better, and my she countered that what would have been perfect is a crisp, refreshing white (perhaps an Alsatian).

  I guess the point here is that you shouldn’t over-think these things.

  The food, though salty, was delicious. The wine was good. The ambiance was nice, other than the lamp over our table hanging right at my eye level. Life is sometimes rough for tall guys. We finished up, too full for dessert. After a cup of coffee, we headed home happy.

Greg Goes to the Great Lakes Brew Fest

  It was Saturday afternoon and I was in the back seat of a car full of Binny’s people. We were heading up North to Racine, Wisconsin, to help pour beer in the annual “Great Lakes Brew Fest.”

  Racine is a bit outside of Binnys territory.  I point this out because it was everybody’s day off, and we were actually volunteering our time and beer pouring prowess, and not representing Binnys. One of the guys in our group used to work at the Lakefront Brewery up in Milwaukee and still has contacts in Wisconsin.

  Isnt this the greatest industry?  How many people out there love their job so much that theyre willing to do it on their day off and for free?

  I spent the afternoon behind the Dundee table, pouring Honey Brown and Oktoberfest. I was surprised at how good these beers are. If youre reading the Binnys Beer Blog, youve probably tried the Dundee Honey Brown at some point. Right? Its a light, easy drinking brew with a bit more character than your standard American Lager, slightly sweetened with Honey. Im already sweet enough, of course. Its not brown, though. They should have called it Honey Gold. I was surprised at how much I liked the Dundee Oktoberfest its quite a malty beer, with lots of baking spice notes like nutmeg and light cinnamon. One taster said it reminded her of a pumpkin pie, only without the pumpkin.

  The day consisted of a practically endless stream of tasters, all enjoying the weather and the beer and each other and having a great time. At an instant when I had just a few seconds of respite from the pouring, I looked down the table at our group. There was me, your faithful Binnys web wine guy, and a wine consultant, and a cigar specialist, and a customer service manager, and human resources person. It dawned on me that none of us were actually in the beer department. But here we all were, volunteering to pour beer at a festival simply because we love beer. Like I said, isnt this the greatest industry?

  But I couldnt think about that for long. There were more thirsty tasters to serve. And eventually, after we finally ran out of samples, I grabbed my pint glass and hit up the other tables for some samples of my own.


Binny’s Beer Expo Coming Soon

Binnys biggest beer tasting of the year and possibly largest ever, is coming up on Thursday, September 10th.  Binnys in the South Loop will feature over 150 unique and appetizing beers from more than 60 different breweries from every niche of the globe. This is a cant miss opportunity for beer lovers to sample a little bit of everything, whether it is the recently released pumpkin, harvest, and Oktoberfest beers, or old favorites and flagships from world famous breweries. We look forward to meeting and discussing beer with you, and we hope you all can make it out to this mecca of beer events.

Homebrew Contest Winners Recognized

Tuesday night, Binnys in Willowbrook held a homebrew competition. The number of entries greatly exceeded our expectations, as we had over 80 people enter beers into the competition. The quality of the beers us judges tasted also was well above what any of us anticipated. We would like to congratulate the winners and honorable mentions, as well as thank each and every person that entered a beer into our competition.

First Place

Tom Kelleher on the left

Tom Kelleher’s saison was true to the style, and perfectly carbonated. It had pleasant fruity esters, and was highly drinkable. It was the only saison entered into the competition, and the all around favorite of the judges. Toms grand prize includes a 3 day and 2 night all expense paid trip for two people to Denver next year for the Great American Beer Festival, valued at $1800 dollars. Tom is pictured on the left of the photo to the right.

Continue reading

New and Notable

  I’m alwayssearching for great values in the world of wine to share with anyonewho will listen. Here are a few new wines and notable values that I’vebeen able totaste recently and thought you might like. Come on in, check them out,and besure to ask the folks in the stores if they have any favorites of theirown.

  Also, don’t forget about our Weekend At Binny’stasting program special tastings are being held every Friday nightand Saturday afternoon at Binny’s locations all across Chicagoland.After all, there’s no better way to find a new favorite than to tasteit first for free!


Value From Italy

  From Italian wine superpower Antinori’s estate holdings in the Puglia region comes the 2008 Tormaresca Neprica.It gets its name from the grapes that go into the blend: NEgroamaro,PRImitivo, and CAbernet sauvignon. It has a good, deep nose, with adepth that suggests a heftier price tag. The wine is bright and fruity,showing deep plum and ripe red cherry, and I’d swear I taste cocoa orvanilla in the lightly tannic finish. Not only does it display anamazing amount of depth for a Stainless Steel aged wine retaining thefreshness and ripeness of the fruit without limiting the wine’scomplexity but the Neprica is an absolute steal at this price, atunder ten bucks.


New From Portugal

  I’m usually cautiously skeptical about red table wines fromPortugal (though lots of people around here will disagree with me).I’ve had too many roasted, burnt, or pruney reds that lack charm andcome across as one-dimensional. So whenever I try something from thatcountry that stands out, I usually take extra note. New to Binny’sshelves are the Quartilho wines labeled with a plain Q.The 2006 Quartilho Tintocaught my attention right away with it’s fresh, expressive fruit on thenose from tart red springtime cherries to a deeper red raspberry,with just a touch of vanilla. It’s a modern, almost flashy wine, withplush and lively fruit with just a touch of oak, and an exceptionalmodern red from Portugal. It’s white counterpart, the 2007 Quartilho Branco,isn’t bad either. Made from locally popular Portuguese varietal FernaoPires, this white is zippy and refreshing, lively with acidity, withhints of fruit cocktail and citrus, and underlined with grassyherbaceous qualities. You’ll find both of these Portuguese delights onBinny’s shelves for $11.99 every day.


Value From Washington State

  Binny’s has carried this wine for a while, but I was at a bigWashington wine tasting this week, and was reminded of just how greatof a perennial value it represents. We’ve carried the Bookwalter red blendfor years they used to label their blends with lot numbers, but theyrecently changed their marketing to incorporate literary themes (theyrefer to their mailing list as their ‘book club’) and now themultivintage blend is called Subplot. Yeah, that’s sort ofclever, I guess (Also, keep an eye out for the similarly namedForeshadow, an absolutely fantastic merlot from Bookwalter). At anyrate, the wine is great I tasted Bookwalter Subplot #23- a good representation of Washington’s signature of balanced, pure andbeautiful fruit supported by solid, modern winemaking techniques. Akitchen-sink blend of six or seven different grapes that spans severalvintages, this sleek red is driven by ripe cherries underline withnotes of cola, and finishes broad and deep, with hints of cocoa. It’squite a value in the mid-teens.

Whisky Hotline Hits the Road

The Whisky Hotline is hitting the road on the continued search for the best bottlings for our customers.  I flew into Louisville last night with Binny’s Spirits consultants Joe Maloney, Doug Fornek, and Ross Macfarquhar and we’re going to be spending the day on the eastern edge of the Bourbon trail, with visits today at Four Roses, Wild Turkey and Buffalo Trace.  We have recently taken in a number of new hand picked bottlings (most notably the 10 barrel vatting of Buffalo Trace, IMHO the best we’ve done to date,) and are prowling for more opporunities.  Only the best and most interesting will make it back to Chicago.  I will be periodically updating the trip and passing along information and new discoveries as they arise.  Please feel free to submit questions, I just might be able to get answers directly from the source!

Focus on Vibrant Rioja

  Binny’s has a thing for Rioja right now (a good thing). Be sure to check out our Rediscover Rioja tasting events, and also browse the wines we carry from Rioja the prices reflect our 10% OFF sale on ALL Rioja wines through October. Every single wine from Rioja!

  Yesterday Binny’s held an internal training seminar about Rioja for our wine consultants. We discussed the region, watched a video from Rioja’s recent marketing blitz, and tasted a few wines.

  The video was good and informative, if a little repetitive, and after about an hour I grew more and more aware of just how little padding my chair had. Soon enough, the lights came back on and the discussion started: we covered geography and climate, viticulture and winemaking, about the history and the future of the region. While tasting the wines, we discussed the qualities of each wine, but also how they fit into Rioja and how Rioja fits into the world of wine – who might like these wines, how they compare to other favorites, and as of course, food pairing ideas.


Rioja 101

  Rioja sits in the North of Spain, and is named after the rio Oja, the river that cuts through the region. It is cradled among a few mountain ranges, the most notable being the Sierra Cantabria to the North. The region is at a confluence of three different climatic forces the cold Atlantic winds from the North, the Mediterranean climate from the Southeast, and the continental climate of the Iberian Peninsula. These climatic influences are important to the character of tempranillo, the primary red grape of the region, and to the handful of other grapes often blended into the wine.

  One thing that always comes up when discussing Spanish wine is the Old World/New World dichotomy. As a historical European wine region, Rioja has held a reputation for making traditional, rustic, dusty, herbal and gamy wines. As modern winemaking practices and tastes change, there are many wines emerging from the area (as there are everywhere) that are more modern flashy, big, fruit-forward wines, often featuring the plush influence of oak as notes of vanilla, baking spice and caramel. It is possible that it’s not an either/or proposition, that the region incorporates a broad spectrum of styles, combining tradition and modernity.


Some Tasting Notes

  I enjoy seated group tastings in the same way I enjoyed literature classes in college everybody shares their opinion, and you can pick up new viewpoints. The opinions here are my own, are not a consensus, but I must give some credit to the group.

  Rioja produces several different types of wines, based on the time the wine spent aging in oak casks and in the bottle:


  Wine labeled Rioja (sometimes referred to as Joven, or ‘young’) often sees little or no age in barrel. Legally, the label guarantees that the wine is from Rioja and from the labeled vintage. These wines tend to be fruit forward and immediately approachable. We tasted the 2008 Cortijo Rioja, a good beginner’s introduction to Rioja, showing notes of cherry candy and root beer. The 2007 Sierra Cantabria Rioja shows just a little more complexity, with a little baking spice and softer fruits. The 2006 Faustino VII Rioja is an affordable example of a classically-styled Rioja, with dried cherry fruit and rustic, gamy overtones.


  If a wine spends at least a year aging in oak and another in bottle, it can be labeled Crianza, a slightly more complex style of wine, still framed in fruit and drinkable young. The 2004 Lan Crianza stands out as an obvious value, with complex anise and other dry herbs under tart cherry fruit, for a somewhat classical style. The 2005 Sierra Cantabria Crianza is bigger and more plush, with dark cherry accented with cocoa. It is a deliciously easy wine to drink.


  A wine that spends even more time aging 18 months or more in oak, and at least another year in bottle can be labeled Reserva. These are known to be yet more complex, more special. The 2001 Lan Reserva is an amazing value at $16, with modern, fresh, jammy, candied fruit up front, but giving way to more classic notes on the finish. We were lucky to taste the 2003 Roda Reserva, an impressively broad and plush wine, showing plenty of oak as well as broad plum fruit.


  Most wineries only make Gran Reserva wines in the best vintages. For a wine to be labeled Gran Reserva, it must be aged in oak two years or more, with an additional three years aging in bottle. These are the special wines, but even they don’t have to be too expensive. The 2002 Campo Viejo Gran Reserva shows complex notes of cherry and cola, the cherry giving way to herbal complexities and then to a structured, tannic finish quite a value at $20! The 1996 Faustino I Gran Reserva is a vision of Rioja at its most classic; colored a crayon’s Burnt Sienna, it has a complex nose like an old port or nebbiolo. Cedar and cinnamon frame this rustic yet delicate wine. It might not have been the most drinkable wine of the day, but it was probably the most interesting.


  More and more, winemakers in Rioja are producing wines outside of this labeling system, aging to their tastes. These bottlings legally fall under the basic Rioja label, but can offer more complexity. The 2004 Allende bottling is a surprisingly bright wine, with notes of tart cherries lifted further by fresh acidity. The 2006 Artadi Vinas de Gain is a very dark, deeply extracted wine with black olive depth and dark cherry and plum fruit, and shows a wonderful (but not flashy) oak influence.




Trends in Shoes and also in Australian Wines

  I need to start jogging again. I could use the exercise. And by again, I mean that the last time I put serious effort into jogging, I was in high school. So I went to buy some running shoes.

The most plain pair of running shoes I could find.   Apparently, all modern running shoes are designed by comic book artists with attention deficit disorder and people who have stock in  foam rubber companies. Where can I get a pair of shoes that offer good cushion and arch support without all the flashy foil wiring and the suspension bridge Aquatread sole and the pyrotechnic reflective day-glo blue logos?

  What I’m getting at here is that I’d rather pay for something of substance, something classically designed that works well, than for flashy gimmicks. Maybe I can work this out to be some kind of analogy for wine?


  There’s been a lot of chatter lately in the world of wine about Australia sales are down, especially in the big-ticket wines that earned the country so much attention just five years ago. A recent article by International Wine Cellar’s Josh Reynolds (in the July/August issue) begins with By now the Australian wine industrys problems have been well documented. In a recent blog post entitled Is Australia Really Dead? Wine Spectator’s Harvey Steiman ponders the declining sales and also the dropping costs of wines imported from Australia. The main theme seems to be that many consumers are turning away from the stereotype Aussie red huge, over-extracted fruit bombs lacking in elegance but overboard on alcohol and palate impact.

  They’re tired of the flashy running shoes, so to speak, and are looking for a more timeless and classic shoe … er … wine. Yep. There’s the analogy.

  One great trend, though, is that there is a real buyer’s market in Australian wine right now, if you know which wines to look for. Consumers can find a lot of great values under $15, mostly in classic labels that existed before Australia really took of as a category about, say, eight or ten years ago, and also in a lot of newer bottlings that offer more than just one-dimensional fruit.


Some Great Australian Values

2008 Marquis Philips Shiraz  For fans of big shiraz with a backbone: the 2008 Marquis Philips Shiraz hasn’t hit Binny’s shelves quite yet, but keep an eye out for it soon (we still have plenty of the 2007). Winemaker Chris Ringland of R Wines fame has taken over the winemaking for this brand, but the ’08 shiraz is a step away from his usual super-jammy profile (and away from the trend of slightly sweet, over-oaked past vintages of Marquis Philips wines). With a big dark nose, the shiraz balances sweet and jammy fruit with great weight, herbal and olive qualities, and tannic structure, leading to a much bigger finish than the $12.99 price tag would suggest.

2008 Clos Otto Boxhead Shiraz2007 Epicurean Bistro Grenache  A couple of newer wines you might not have tried: The 2007 Epicurean Bistro Grenache is deeper than you might expect in an Australian grenache. It’s lighter on the nose, and shows a little Rhone-like funkiness, but shows wonderful deepth on the palate, with licorice under blue raspberry and red cherry fruit, along with hints of spice. And for a real value, check out the 2008 Boxhead Shiraz from Clos Otto. For $10.99, this shiraz shows a lot of dimension, displaying notes of raspberry and plum, plus cola (or maybe root beer?) and herbal qualities that I usually associate with much more expensive wines.

2006 d'Arenberg Footbolt Shiraz2007 d'Arenberg Stump Jump GSM  An old standby, actually my measuring stick for reasonably priced Australian shiraz, is the d’Arenberg Footbolt Shiraz, still a great value (it was an easy recommendation at fifteen bucks five years ago, and it’s still $15.99 today). The 2006 is textbook: good fruit at the plum jam end of the fruit spectrum, balanced with black pepper, tannin and acidity to create a well-rounded Shiraz. Also from d’Arenberg, there’s the always popular Stump Jump GSM a lighter Rhone-style Shiraz, Grenache and Mourvedre blend with a little spice, a little stewed tomato and a little cherry fruit that comes together to make a tight wine and an exceptional value at under ten bucks. And if you like the Stump Jump GSM, keep an eye out for the 2008 Stump Jump Shiraz, deeper than the GSM and showing great fruit and black pepper. The shiraz should make its way to Binny’s shelves sometime soon.


  Along with these recommendations, never hesitate to ask any Binny’s wine guy for his suggestions on Australian values we’ve all got a few favorites, and more times than not, we’ll talk your ear off on the subject. Do you have a favorite Australian value or two? Have you turned away from Australia all together? If so, what do you enjoy now? Bad metaphors aside, do you at least agree with me about the running shoes? Let us know below, leave a comment!

My low-top brown plaid Chuck Taylors  The potential irony in all this, from where I sit at least, is that as Australian sales decrease, as customers avoid big, jammy Australian reds, the sales of Spanish and South American wines are growing exponentially both categories are quickly becoming known for super-modern, overextracted, and generally big reds.

  But then, I’ve never really understood trends. But I am pretty sure my plaid Chuck Taylors go great why my tan and black Houndstooth pants. Classic.