Video Vault Interview – Steve Fennell of Sanford Winery & Vineyards

On April 18, I had the pleasure of accepting an invitation from Two Restaurant and Bar in the West Loop, to taste the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from Sanford Winery & Vineyards and meet winemaker Steve Fennell.

The picture is obviously a little dim, but hopefully you can hear it all OK. Please click the link below!

Sanford - Three Pinots









Sanford - SRA 2009 Pinot Noir

Sanford - SRA 2010 in Glass













Video Vault Interview – with Lisa Hallgren of Ravines Wine Cellars

Finger Lakes Map.jpg

The Finger Lakes of Upper New York State. Ravines Wine Cellars owns property adjacent to Seneca and Keuka Lakes.

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The view of Ravines from Keuka Lake.

Over the next few weeks, both here and on my Little Sister blog, I will be posting some videos previously seen only on YouTube.  This first one is an interview with Lisa Hallgren, winemaker at Ravines Wine Cellars, in the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York.  We tasted her wines at Sips on Sherman, the former WineStyles located just north of Chicago, in Evanston.  The Finger Lakes region is especially strong on Riesling and Cabernet Franc, Ms. Hallgren makes wine from these varieties along with Chardonnay, Merlot and Pinot Noir. You can watch the video at my link here.


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2010 was a very warm vintage for the Finger Lakes.  There’s only 10 percent new oak added, the creamy texture comes from the lees stirring.  Lots of melon, ripe pear and toast.



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Walking through the ravines of upper New York State:  “You can smell the wet stone”; it really comes out on this Riesling.



Ravines - 2010 Keuka Village.jpg

A warm, humid vintage; definitely picked up the walnut and manderin orange on this one.  Definitely picked up on the botrysized fruit!

Event Preview – #Rueda Tasting June 12

I hope to meet many of you at this Thursday’s event celebrating the wines of the Rueda region of Spain!  It takes place this Thursday, June 12, at 6:00 p.m. at the Blue Star Wine Bar in West Town.  You can click the link below for tickets:

Rueda is located in North-Central Spain and is one of the nine DO’s (Denomination of Origin) of Castilla y Leon and the first one established in this region, in 1980.  The prominent grapes grown there are Verdejo, Viura and Sauvignon Blanc (there is also Tempranillo, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Garnacha planted here, but white plantings are dominant).

There is a spicy (think white pepper) and walnut flavor to these wines, based on the samples I tried this past weekend along with a grainy, almost pine-like texture.  The creamy but not too runny cheeses I paired with these wines brought out the flavors of both the wines and the cheeses.

Please say hello if you see me at the event or leave a comment below if you have any favorites from this region of Spain!  And check this website out for more information on Rueda:

100% Viura







Monte Enebro #2

The description of the cheese I paired my Verdejo (pictured above) at Bin 36.

Much More Golden!

The Finca Antigua, which I tasted at Bin 36 – 100% Viura and much darker in color than the 100% Verdejo I tasted at home.












Chicken Salad and 100% Verdejo

The salty, slightly vinegar-y potato chips definitely matched well with this Rueda wine; a 100% Verdejo.

Meet Brand Ambassador Lacey Burke of Ruinart

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In this week’s interview, Lacey Burke, U.S. Brand Ambassador for Ruinart, discusses the legendary Champagne house.  Ms. Burke worked in the restaurant business for over ten years, including sommelier positions in a few of NYC’s finest establishments including Grayz, Del Posto and Gotham Bar and Grill. In addition to working the floor as a sommelier, she also conducted educational seminars for private clients, and participated in tasting panels for Wine & Spirits magazine, and Eric Asimov’s New York Times column.


How and when did Ruinart begin and how has its style evolved over the generations?

Ruinart was founded in 1729 and although they have adjusted their winemaking techniques with the times, have always remained a house focused on fresh, elegant Champagne.

What is unique about its vineyard(s), soils, etc., compared to other Champagne houses?

We are known for our Blanc de Blancs, which is a very rare style of Champagne, since Chardonnay represents only about 30% Champagne vineyards. Over 55% of our supply is Chardonnay and a majority of our Chardonnay comes from Premiers Crus and Grands Crus vineyards.

What current styles does Ruinart make?  Are they all available in Chicago (any exclusive to restaurants?)

In the US you’ll find our NV Blanc de Blancs, Rose and vintage Dom Ruinart Blanc de Blancs and Dom Ruinart rosé.

Do you produce vintage Champagnes every year?  What are some of the most memorable vintages for Ruinart?

We only produce vintage Champagnes in years that are not only great, but great for Chardonnay. 2002 is showing particularly well right now!

I have to ask, what happened in 2013?  How devastating were the storms in Champagne to the vineyards?

Growing vines in 2013 was no easy task in France as many wine regions got hit by poor weather conditions, hail, diseases, resulting in sometimes devastating results in terms of crop size and quality. But Champagne remained largely unscathed, thanks to a perfect summer and a equally nice fall.  And despite the unusually late harvest, the wines, especially those made from chardonnay, are very promising, according to our Chef de Caves. There might even be a 2013 Ruinart vintage!

Now let’s talk about you for a moment.  How does one prepare to take on the role of brand ambassador for such a famous brand?  What are the roles you take on to promote Ruinart?

I spent about five years as a sommelier in two of the best New York City fine dining restaurants. My passion and knowledge for Champagne grew in these environments. I focus on education, consumer tastings, staff trainings and events to create awareness and excitement about Ruinart.

Have you discovered any unique pairings with Ruinart Champagnes?

I tend to lean towards classic pairings, but some personal favorites are sushi and Asian cuisine in general, and of course, French fries! A specific paring I particularly liked, was a beautiful duck confit cassoulet by Michelle Bernstein, with our 1998 Dom Ruinart rose’. I wasn’t sure if it could stand up to such a rich dish, but the results were phenomenal!

​Thank you for those great answers, Ms. Burke!  And good luck to all sommeliers in the Chicago edition of the Ruinart Challenge, taking place May 13 here in Chicago – someone will win a trip to Champagne (can you take me with you?)

Three Minutes with Tyler Balliet of Second Glass/Wine Riot

Hope you can check out Wine Riot – May 2 and 3rd at Union Station in Downtown Chicago! Here is a quick video with founder and president Tyler Balliet:

and some photos from previous events:


Your humble blogger, taking in some wines at the Bordeaux booth.


A very quiet, orderly Wine Riot underway!


Wine Riot offers several short classes during each tasting session.



As you can see, Wine Riot has a very strict dress code!





Meet the Wine Coach – Interview with Laurie Forster



I’ve been a fan of Laurie Forster’s half hour radio show The Sipping Point for the past two years.  I knew she had a budding standup comedy career in addition to her wine consulting and have long hoped that she would bring her performance to Chicago.  This Friday, April 4, she appears at City Winery for 7:00 p.m. (already sold out) and 9:30 performances. Tickets for the second show are (for now) available here.

Let’s meet Laurie and learn about how she finds the humor in wine, a topic that often brings out the Serious in many of us:

You have a unique niche – combining wine knowledge with comedy.  Which do you think is more accurate:  Are you a comedienne with wine as her theme or a sommelier who happens to be really funny?

I’d say a little of both…I am a certified Sommelier with training from the American Sommelier Association, Wine & Spirits Education Trust and more. Growing up I was always the one to crack a joke to diffuse a stressful situation so it’s part of my authentic self. Growing up in New Jersey you had to a have a quick comeback and sarcastic humor is just part of our DNA there.

When I switched careers from software to wine I found lots of things in the wine world seemed funny to me and foreign so I always found a way to laugh at that as well as any faux pas I made! Like tasting notes from the wine critics always seemed more like reading a Harlequin Romance novel or some of them Fifty Shades of Grey!

Have you been developing your wine knowledge and comedy chops at the same time or did one come before the other?

Formally I started studying wine in 2002 and started The Wine Coach in 2004. I’ve always incorporated humor into my classes because it’s who I am but my formal comedy training was at the DC Improv in 2010. The best material we are taught is found in your real life which for me includes the wine business, being married to a chef and a mom to a ten year old daughter.

Tell us a little about the wine show you host every Saturday morning.

I host The Sipping Point radio on WBAL 1090AM which is broadcast in the DC/Maryland area live Saturdays at 12:00 noon eastern time and can also be heard in my free mobile app. The Wine Coach as well is podcast on iTunes. Each week we explore the recipe for a delicious life with features on wine, spirits, beer, chefs and more. Past guests include Robert Parker Jr, Jancis Robinson, Andrea Robinson, Robert Irvine and more.


Do you mention many winemakers, sommeliers as part of your routine, or do you try to avoid being that specific in the subject matter of your bits?

I love poking fun at the wine establishment especially critics and media as we can sometimes make wine too complicated for people. Winemakers are the heroes in my book and way more down to earth than somms!

Talk a little about your first exposure to wine, for example, did you family often serve wine and were they major collectors?  Did you grow up around a lot of winemakers and somms?

Ha ha, I grew up in New Jersey where wine was usually pink or in a box! Honestly I saw wine at my house when we had parties but not at the dinner table…my first wine was at the drive-in and it was Boones Farm Strawberry Hill. No, I don’t remember the movie!

Have you ever tried making wine yourself; would you be interested in trying?

I have the greatest respect for the craft of winemaking but honestly I know how much work it takes so no, I prefer tasting wine!

There’s something about online/mobile content that makes wine a friendly subject, but it hasn’t really developed strongly in “mainstream media”, do you agree?  Do you see this changing?

My whole goal is to change the way wine is viewed by the public and the media…it can be FUN with a capital F. Unfortunately most people approach it in a way that is anything but entertaining–I promise to change that with my perfect pairing for wine–COMEDY!