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













Monday Night Wines – 1/13/14

It was great to get back on the blind tasting saddle again!  My study group was pretty quiet for a few months, but fortunately, a couple of folks sent out feelers just before Christmas expressing an interest in practicing again.  On Monday night we had a few wine newbies and I learned a great deal from their tasting notes.

Our first tasting meeting took place last night at Local Root, where we also enjoyed some delicious locally sourced food thanks to our gracious host Issac.  Definitely recommended if you’re visiting the River North neighborhood.

The first wine was my contribution; the final guess was a SB from the Loire Valley, but another participant pegged it as New Zealand.  One of us said it was “too balanced to be from NZ.”  There was pretty solid agreement on most of the grid characteristics (Clear, Day Bright, Pale, Star, Greenish Hue, On the Nose:  Lime, kiwi, white flowers, pineapple – PLEASE write me if you think this is TMI!)  We all felt more minerality on the palate compared to the nose, and we were pretty split as to any oak treatment.

13.0 %

And the next wine up was (surprise!)



Now how weird was that?  We all noted more of that familiar NZ jalepeno on the 2012!

The wine I tried to identify was a very delicate white, with a combination of citrus and stone fruit.  I was all over the (Old) World in terms of ID-ing the grape; the lack of obvious oak and veggie (green beans, celery, radishes on the palate) took me without much confidence to Chenin Blanc from the Loire, but I could also argue for Riesling or Albarino.  Looking back, acid would have probably been higher if the wine were an Old World example of either of these grapes.

13.5 %

Really?  Well, at least I was correct about the very light touch of oak.

Our first red was one I am pretty sure I have tasted before, maybe not this vintage.  Our taster noticed the orange rim (should have been a major clue), a nose of cherries, mushrooms, cooked apple and some jamminess, which honestly confused me.  There was a certain barnyard quality on the palate, along with medium + tannins.  Another taster mentioned a “fast falloff.”  Very confusing!  I was suspecting a Grenache blend; was sure it was Old World, at least:


Next up was another Italian wine, I picked up on some bitterness almost immediately on the palate; our taster thought this one has a little age, American oak on the nose, and a nose a blue and black fruit with a touch of cinnamon.  Acid and alcohol were judged medium with more coffee and dark chocolate on the palate.  I thought Pinot Noir was a pretty logical conclusion but that bitterness put me Italy and was convinced it was some kind of Super Tuscan.


And we were all over the variety map on the last wine.  We all figured it was USA but split between Washington and California. Our notes included full body, black fruit, fried herbs, sage, potting soil, and a jammy, tart feel.  Definitely some American oak.  Merlot from Washington seemed very possible as did Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon.  Fortunately we all received partial credit on the grape!  The base was Cabernet Sauvignon but as you can see in this review (sorry, forgot to get a picture of this one), there’s a little bit of several grapes here!

(This review was for the 2009, but we tasted the 2011.  I suspect the blend is pretty similar).  13.6%

I hope these notes are helpful to you.  If you try any of these wines and have different notes, please share in the comments!

Wines of Veneto Preview

Map of Veneto, Including Provinces Verona, Venezia and Treviso

Come join me on Tuesday, June 28 for two free tastings featuring the wines from Veneto, Italy.  This region is home to iconic wines such as Amarone, Soave and Prosecco.  The Italian Trade Commission and representatives from five Italian provinces from this region have designed a thorough website at to familiarize those unfamiliar with their history of winemaking.

Here’s more information on both events:

From 2:00 p.m. – 4:00 p.m.:

Treasure Island – Hyde Park (1526 East 55th Street)

“From Sparkling to Sweet:  The Multiple Treasures of the Wines of Veneto”

From 6:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.

Benny’s Chop House (444 North Wabash Avenue)

“Sparkling Veneto! – Celebrate Independence Day 2011 with Prosecco and Other Sparkling Wines of Veneto”

Wines of Chile – Part I

For the next few posts, I will be focusing on the wines of Chile.  On April 27, I attended an excellent tasting here in Chicago highlighting the best of recent Chile vintages.  Here are two videos I took at the event.  One is a presentation about what is practically Chile’s singular wine grape, Carmenere.  The other video is a roundtable I conducted with Lori Tieszen, Executive Director of Wines of Chile, USA, Master Sommelier Fred Dexheimer and Matt Wilson, whose poignant photographs of Chile’s recent earthquake were on display during the tasting.

Coming later this week, highlights of a Twitter Taste-Off between eight Chilean Sauvignon Blancs, and my friends’ expert insights when I bring a bottle of SB to our Show and Tell House Party!


Canadian Wines at Lush

In this video, taken March 24th at the Canadian wine exhibition at Lush Wine and Spirits in West Town, Allan Schmidt of Vineland Estates, gives us an overview of the different wines made in Canada.

Allan Schmidt

The other wineries featured at this tasting included:

Cave Spring Cellars
Charles Baker
Chateaus des Charmes
Osooyos Larose Estate Winery
Pelee Island Winery
Peller Estate

(Thank you Lush, for supplying me with the complete list!)

Please send me an email if you see any of these wines available locally.  Thanks!

Austrian Samples and Swing

This young lady served the Austria's addictive pumpkin seeds.

Spring brings an increase in the wine and spirits tastings throughout Chicago, and I have been to several memorable ones this past month.  On March 19, I was honored to receive an invitation to “Austrian Samples and Swing” which took place at one of the swankilicious (if a little cramped) ballrooms at the Sofitel on Chestnut Street.  Sponsored by the local Austrian Trade Commission, this tasting featured samples of the country’s finest breads, meats, beer, and of course, wine.

Usually I attend events like this most anticipating the wines, not considering that the food featured might actually enhance what I am drinking.  I discovered a delectable combo of apple strudel from Austrian Bakery on Clark Street and Gruner Veltliner, the white grape most native to Austria.  An apple or pineapple component was noticeable in these wines, but I also found a little beach sand in both the aroma and the palate that gave the strudel a little extra textural feel.

Austria also grows a black grape called Zweigelt not often grown outside the home country.  The resulting wines are light in tannins and body, with cherry and cranberry as the typical flavors.  Because the meats and cheeses featured were a little on the milder side, Zweigelt proved an attractive pairing.

These chocolates paired well with a Zipfer lager.

Here’s a list of all the vendors featured at this tasting; most of them, fortunately, are local to our city:
WeinBauer , white and red wines
VinDivino , white and red wines
Monika Caha Selections (Importer: Frederick Wildman & Sons), Grooner white wine
Stawski Distributing , beers
Koval Distillery , handcrafted schnapps
Julius Meinl , coffee, tea, and pastries
Landgarten , organic snacks, pumpkin seeds
Austria’s Finest Naturally , pumpkin seeds and pumpkin seed oil
Austrian Bakery , artisanal breads, petit fours, apple strudel

Towards the end of the night, I was privileged to interview Niki Berlakovich, the Austrian Minister for Agriculture and Environment.  Please click the link below for a listen.

Niki Berlakovich

And I hope you join me on April 28, for another tasting at the Sofitel, this one featuring European drinks of all kinds.