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Wine Spectator’s Grand Tour 2011

Last week was the biannual Chicago stop of the Wine Spectator Grand Tour, held at the Grand Ballroom at Navy Pier. The best thing about this tasting is that all of these wonderful wineries pour just one wine each, soyou can taste the highlights quickly. Noted:

– Vintage means a lot in Bordeaux, but the best vintages don’t always show better at any given time. The 2004s that were open were absolutely gorgeous and complex, while the 2005s were mean and tannic and austere and not in their prime.

– The less time you spend eating, the more wines you can taste.

– In a room of monster wines at monster prices, it was amazing how well the inexpensive but delicious wines from Spain held their own. I’m talking about Tres Picos and Volver here.

- 2007 is an amazing year for California blue-chip cabernet sauvignon and Bordeaux-style blends.

- Tasted a wine from Long Island, 2007 Bedell Musee. It was pretty good!

- The phrase “pretty good” seems to carry more weight in my mind than it does for people who pour wines professionally. I got a lot of raised eyebrows, but I meant it with excitement and sincerity each time.

– My phone camera doesn’t work well in the dark, so most of my pictures didn’t turn out. You can still click the images below for a better view.

 


Loring Wine Company: Monster Pinot

 

The Central Coast of California is a gigantic area that spans from the northern part of L.A. to the southern part of the San Francisco Bay. I spent a week visiting this area. After lunch with a high school friend in Beverly Hills and a Cubs/Dodgers game, I found myself at the winery of Brian Loring, owner and wine maker for Loring Wine Company.  Winery is not the best word, actually. Warehouse is more fitting.  Brian sources his fruit, mainly Pinot Noir, from a handful of different vineyards from around Santa Barbera County all the way up to Sonoma. It’s easier for him to have a centralized location where he has a big space to comfortably work with all of the different vineyards he sources from.  

Loring Pinot Noir

We tasted through a lot of barrels. His Chardonnay in French oak and American oak was cool to taste through. We tasted through his single vineyard Pinots as well. Different clones, different barrels and different lots, one could get bogged down, but it was fun to compare. Brian was a great host.  He’s hilarious, down to Earth and passionate about his wines. 

The Pinots that Brian makes are not wimpy. With higher alcohol, use of oak and dark, concentrated color it would be hard to pick these as Pinot Noirs in a blind tasting. The amazing thing about his wines is they are all balanced. Even though the high alcohol and beautiful ripeness, the acidity remains. With his single vineyard sourcing in the Pinot Noirs, they all seem to have their own personality/terroir. They are amazing wines and are a great value, too.  Seek them out: Call or email your favorite Binny’s for availability. 

Cidre Brut par Nature

As Summer slowly begins its stroll towards Chicago, it is time to start thinking about the eventual return of warmer weather and what we should be drinking when it finally arrives. And after Springs late arrival, I will also try to find a polite way to ask someone, if it is just me, or is he an awful lot shorter than I remember?

Warm weather brings plenty of change with a switch from big flavored imperial stouts and robust Cabernets to citrusy IPAs and crisp whites.

On a piping hot summer day, few things get the festivities started like a pint of hard apple cider. It is always clean, remarkably crisp and refreshing.

Fortunately, the Chicago market has an abundance of ciders. Unfortunately, there is also an abundance of preconceived notions about the drink that should first be debunked.

Yes, traditional hard ciders are sweet. The problem arises with the interpretation of the word sweet. Some think all cider is sweet in that cloying-faux green apple-Jolly Rancher sort of way. That flavor profile is an option, yes, but it is not the be all and end all in the flavor spectrum. Thank goodness.

Fortunately, other options are available. Where some people enjoy that green apple flavor, I prefer something dry. Most reputable cider makers will differentiate their products by putting the word dry on the label itself. Personally, I prefer this style because I believe it gives you the opportunity to actually taste the flavor of the apples themselves, instead of the additional sugar that is added to enhance their flavor. When selecting a cider, dont be afraid to ask for assistance from one of the friendly folks in the beer aisle and explain what it is you are looking for. Getting off on the right foot is the best way to establish a new flavor connection. It is also the best way to flee an angry crowd.

I had a cider recently that really stopped me in my tracks and I think would be an interesting recommendation for those people who enjoy structured white wines and the beer people who like a complicated Belgian sour. This was the second time I tried the bottle and I am still thinking about it.

Cidre Brut par Nature is the product of the Pays dAuge in the Calvados region of northwest France. It comes specifically from the farm of Julien Fremont, who works less than 30 acres of orchards. His methods are old world and the end result shows a complexity of flavor that could never be reproduced by using contemporary methods.

After popping the cork, the color in the glass showed me this wasnt going to be just any cider. It was golden orange with a cloudy and hazy body. The first taste reminded me of a Belgian sour; big, really tart but clean on the finish. There was plenty of action in the glass as it had an almost effervescent quality to it. This is the product of a secondary fermentation that takes place after the cider is bottled when the alcohol level hits 4.5%. This specific technique is where the Brut par Nature part of the name is born. It was still feisty and active, considering it was a 2008 vintage.

As it warmed up, it began to show oranges and citrus, but on the underside was a faint, smoked meat flavor that had me scratching my head. In a few minutes the flavor concentrated to an almost poached apple flavor with hints a firm pear as well. It was clean and sweet, with a profound mineral quality to it.

On the nose it stayed citrus, but being from Iowa, I could also pick up the smell of the pasture as well. The alcohol is high at 5.5%, giving it Cidre Brut classification for any cider over 5%.

It was interesting as the first time I tried this bottling, it had been opened and resealed the previous day. Even a day later, you got the big sour flavor, but the smoke was gone. Surprisingly, the flavor I came away with most was that of Camembert, a little musty, with a meaty and savory quality to it. The bottle was still very much alive.

For a food pairing, any of the cheeses of the Normandy region would work perfectly. Camembert, Livarot or Pont lEveque would be great place to start, as well as any ripe soft-ripened cheese like a Brie. Look for cheeses that have softened a little or have a little give to them. Look for some rust color around the rind. A funkier cheese would work better with this cider.

This certainly isnt a bottle for the beginner, but it would be an interesting selection to anyone looking to broaden their horizons in the world of cider, beer or wine. All it will take is a broad palate, and open mind and hopefully soon, some loungewear.

 

Jeff Collins is the beer manager at the Lakeview Binny’s

Cidre Brut par Nature is available only at the Lakeview Binny’s location.


Want to Sample the Strongest Beers in the World?

Ever wondered what the strongest beers in the world taste like?  If so, you can be one of the few to sample Brewdog’s Tactical Nuclear Penguin (32% ABV) and Sink the Bismarck (40% ABV) at our Lincoln Park location. These two beers are extremely rare, and even if you managed to track one down, the 12oz bottle price tags of $87.99 for Tactical Nuclear Penguin and $116.99 for Sink the Bismarck are enough to scare most people away.  We featured these beers in a previous blog, click here for more information on what kind of beers these are and how they are made.  Also included in the tasting are an assemblage of Brewdog’s other beers, which will have their prices slashed and be available for purchase.

 

The event is on Tuesday, May 17th from 6:30-8:00pm at our Lincoln Park store.  There is a $10 charge for Binny’s card members, and a $15 charge for non-members.  We will be limiting the event to 50 attendees, and reservations will be taken by phone or in person. Call 312-664-4394 or email AdamV@binnys.com to place your reservation.


Coming Soon: Chameleon Brewing

Chameleon Brewing is the latest concept and line of beers from parent company Sprecher Brewing of Glendale, Wisconsin.  While the Sprecher line of beers highlight traditional European styles as well as sodas, the Chameleon philosophy is centered around innovative American craft beer styles.  The following four offerings should be available at your local Binny’s sometime in the near future:

 

Hop on Top –  While the name might be suggestive on an IPA, Hop on Top is well below an average IPA with its 4.2% ABV and 11 IBU’s.  It is a light bodied, drinkable, and refreshing, with a toasty and earthy hop bitterness.

 

Fire Light This lager is the lightest of the Chameleon offerings, again clocking in at 4.2% ABV.  Like the Sprecher line of beers, Fire Light is fire brewed, adding to its golden color and toasty flavor.

 

Witty We were impressed with Witty, as was the Beverage Tasting Institute, who awarded Witty a gold medal.  Coriander, orange peel, ginger, black pepper, and grains of paradise are just a few of the elements found in this complex brew.

 

Ryediculous IPA This beer is brewed with cascade and chinook hops, as well as rye malt.  Citrus and pine flavors lead the way, with the rye adding a nice touch in this assertively bitter brew.

 

We aren’t 100% sure when these beers are due to hit our shelves, but we are fairly certain they should be available soon.  Inquire at your local Binny’s in a few weeks if you are interested.


Dom Perignon College Graduation Hats

   Here’s an opportunity to celebrate the special achievement of college graduation in style.

   I was skeptical about the Dom Perignon Graduation Hat until I saw one in person and touched it. It’s actually a clever little velvety cap complete with silver tassel and charm that fits on top of the vertical Dom Perignon gift box. A cute way to show someone that you’re proud of their accomplishment.

   Maybe it’s the package design nerd in me, but I think it’s cool that the people at Dom Perignon are willing to play with their already iconic bottle and label in fun new ways (for example, check out their playful tribute to Andy Warhol). I mean, they don’t need to release cute packages to sell their Champage – especially in great years, Dom Perignon clearly stands on its own – but it is cool that they’re willing to be playful with their iconic design.

   We have just a few of these in our stores. We don’t really have any way of inventorying them, so to get one, you’ll have to visit a Binny’s store, and sooner is probably better.


This Week at Binny’s: Sake, Champagne, Insignia & More

   Plenty of new items are rolling into Binny’s this week. Here’s aroundup of just a few noteworthy wines you might want to check out:

 

Sake for a Song

   I always want people to drink more sake. It’s great stuff, delicate and intricate yet complex and intense in focus, at least when it’s good. When it’s bad, it tastes like warm distilled vinegar. We need to get more people tasting good sake so they’re not so afraid of it. Hitting select stores later this week is a new collection of sake including stylistic touchstones and wonderful entry-level examples.

   Sayuri Nigori isn’t too intimidating. The nigori style includes dust from the milling of rice a step in sake production this is what makes nigori look milky. It gives the Sayuri Nigori a milkier, thicker texture (here’s a piece of insider info: nigori is a top-selling style for its approachability).

   The Nanbubijin Tokubetsu Jumai is a great example of the Junmai style. It has great clarity, weight and depth. You can get this textbook Junmai for twelve bucks a bottle. Similarly, the Dassai Goju Junmai Daiginjo is a good example of the Junmai Daiginjo style (more refined because more rice is milled away before brewing) with great texture for under fifteen dollars. At that price, this is one of the best I’ve seen.

   One problem that I have with sake is my unfamiliarity with the names, and then remembering them. If any of these sound good to you, just ask for the most recent sake to arrive, or ask for approachable examples of sake for a beginner; the guys in the aisles will always be happy to show you what’s new as well as their favorites.

 

2002 Dom Perignon

Dom Perignon Tribute to Andy Warhol   Here’s something fun: Dom Perignon is paying homage to a creative genius with the Tribute to Andy Warhol edition of Dom Perignon. This is a collection of three bottles (sold individually, and at the regular Dom Perignon price), playful interpretations of Dom Perignon’s iconic label in red, blue, and yellow. Artsy stuff aside, this is your first chance to get your hands on the highly-regarded 2002 vintage Dom Perignon.

   Of course, if you’re looking for Dom in the classic bottle, we have plenty of the 2000, with 2002 gift sets complete with Champagne flutes coming before the holidays.

   Also from Moet & Chandon, we are picking up a brand new expression of the Chandon California sparkling lineup this week. The Chandon Sweet Cuvee caught me off guard I don’t usually go for sweeter sparklers. This is good, with notes of light fruit and candied ginger on the nose, leading to a mouthful of underripe but fresh strawberries. Not too serious, it would make for a fun girl’s night. Or so I’m guessing.

 

Insignia and other Heavy-Hitters

   Last week I mentioned the arrival 2007 Opus One. As it turns out, the 2007 Joseph Phelps Insignia arrived last week as well. Some of us were lucky to taste these wines, and several other heavy-hitters from California (and Washington), side by side (by side by side by…). The 2007 Insignia is huge and modern, with loads of candied coconut, baking spice, cocoa, and massive fruit, plus tons more. For those who live on numbers, Robert Parker has ranged this at 97-100 points, suggesting in his review that it could achieve a perfect score.

   Some others tasted: 2007 Ridge Monte Bello, in a much more old-school California style with green vegetal notes, blueberry and copper. The 2008 Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon Special Selection is massive, with big black olive, blueberry and blackberry, black pepper, orange liqueur, coffee, and more and more, all fleshing out under the support of massive tannins. 2007 Leonetti Cabernet Sauvignon is fatter with less tannins, the quite massive fruit, black olive, cedar and char absolutely packed into this huge wine.

   Most of these wines are well outside my budget; I sure hope some of you get to enjoy these, over the coming months and in the coming years.

 

Weekend at Binny’s: Scary Wines for Halloween

   Don’t forget about Weekend at Binny’s free staff-pick tastings each Saturday from 1-4. This weekend, our theme is Scary Wines for Halloween. Each store has a different selection, so it will be fun to see what people come up with. I’ll be pouring scary wines at one of the locations; maybe I’ll see you there.


Moms Sparkle in Plainfield

   Pop! Pop! Pop!

That was the sound you heard in the Plainfield Binny’s Beverage Depot store this past Saturday in honor of Mother’s Day. With over 30 bottles of bubbles, featuring true Champagne, sparkling wines, Cava, Prosecco and even some Moscato d’Asti for a sweet treat to choose from, there was no shortage of laughter and happy memories.

One of the highlights of the day was when a woman who was impeccably dressed and around the age of 70 came up to me and thanked me for arranging this event. She said she and her daughter and enjoyed the time together and of course the wide variety of bubbles they were able to sample. There were many children (sons & daughters) who enjoyed this time with their moms, and this helped them decide what to buy to share with their mothers on Sunday in celebration of all their mothers have done for them.

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Don’t Forget 2008 Bordeaux

With all the hype surrounding the 2009 and 2010 futures campaigns, you may be surprised to hear that there are some very good new release Bordeaux arriving in stores right now. The 2008’s are now hitting the shelves, and while no one is calling it the vintage of the century, it is a very good year, with prices considerably lower than the more hyped 2009 and 2010.

 

I recently tasted the 2008 Chateau Poujeaux from Moulis in Bordeaux, and it was excellent. The wine was soft and lush, but also had good structure. It is a wine you could drink now with a lamb chop or steak off the grill, or put aside for five years and enjoy the additional complexity some age would lend to this wine. Poujeaux is almost an even split between Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, with a bit of Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot thrown in. It is available at Binny’s for $29.99.

 

La Tour Carnet from Haut Medoc is another 08 Bordeaux we got in recently. Some of our stores got these in half bottles, which I love, so I picked one up to go with burgers. This wine got 91 points from Parker, and I can see why. It had a solid core of black cherry, with a nice finish but firm tannins. This wine needs a bit of time, but with a couple years it is going to smooth out and be an amazing wine. This goes for $18.99 for a half bottle and $35.99 for a regular size 750ML.

 

There are many other 2008’s available, including Brane Cantenac, Cantenac Brown and Lascombes from Margaux. In addition, more 2008’s will be arriving throughout the summer and fall. 2008 is a classic Bordeaux vintage with reasonable prices. Don’t miss it!


May is Belgian Beer Month at Binny’s

Hopefully everyone took advantage of the great deals from the American craft beer sale that spanned the month of April.  Just like last year, Binny’s is celebrating the beers of Belgium with a month long sale during May.  Virtually every Belgian offering has its price slashed, a portfolio that includes over 400 beers.  For a full list of what is on sale, click on the image below.


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