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

ruinart-blanc-de-blancs-brut-champagne-france-10568626LaceyBurke_791Inline image 1


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!

Friday Interview – Hello, Melanie Wagner!

Hello Wine

It was a pleasure to interview Northbrook based sommelier and wine consultant Melanie Wagner for my blog.  Her new book Hello, Wine was released last fall and is both a useful primer about wine and an inspirational story about a woman navigating a challenging career transition.  Hope you enjoy my YouTube video, available here and please check out Melanie’s blog at www.melaniewagnerwine.com.



Certified Sommelier Melanie Wagner shared her transition from preschool teacher to author and wine consultant, at Lincoln Square bookstore The Book Cellar.

Certified Sommelier Melanie Wagner shared her transition from preschool teacher to author and wine consultant, at Lincoln Square bookstore The Book Cellar.

Friday Interview – Nova Cadamatre


Ms. Cadamatre became the lead winemaker for Robert Mondavi Winery in December, 2012.

I’m not sure if my first encounter with Nova Cadamatre was through her wine blog or through her frequent posts on Twitter.  I became quickly intrigued by both her Day Job and her after hours pursuit, both involving wine.

You may be surprised but only a handful of winemakers have reached the highest professional designations for wine professionals; the Master Sommerlier Exam or the Masters of Wine (MW).  Ms. Cadamatre is a finalist for the MW (she has blogged occasionally about her pursuit to pass its notoriously difficult exams).  But her day job as winemaker for the Robert Mondavi Winery is equally challenging.

Even though Mr. Mondavi passed in 2008, and his namesake winery passed rather messily into corporate ownership, the name still evokes Napa, California as the epicenter of New World winemaking.  In this interview, she openly shares the challenges of living up to the reputation he and others established.

Before discussing your first year with the Robert Mondavi Winery, can you tell me a little about your past winemaker experience?

I started making wine on the East coast in Pennsylvania and then in the Finger Lakes of Upstate New York.  My husband and I moved to California in 2006 after I graduated from Cornell and I’ve worked at several wineries out here prior to landing my dream job at Robert Mondavi Winery.

How familiar were you with Mr. Mondavi’s wines before you interviewed with them?

I was very familiar with the wines.  I’ve always loved the style of Mr. Mondavi’s wines and it was the 1997 Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve that caused me to fall in love with the winery.

Would you say that Mr. Mondavi was a major influence or role model for you?

Mr. Mondavi was a very important role model for me.  His philosophy on wine and life in general was what I saw when I looked at the wine industry.  I still love his quote “Wine to me is passion. It’s family and friends. It’s warmth of heart and generosity of spirit.  Wine is art.  It’s culture.  It’s the essence of civilization and the art of living.”  That pretty much sums up my feelings towards wine as well.  I was lucky enough to meet him at the winery before he died and it was a pivotal moment for me.  My deepest hope is that I can continue to help the winery team nurture the legacy that he left us.

Since the Mondavi family sold their holdings to Constellation, there might be some confusion about the nature of the winery today.  Are you still working all the plots the family developed over the last fifty years?  Is the winemaking personnel (other than the Mondavis, of course) still pretty intact?  Are you trying to adhere to their winemaking philosophies or is it more accurate to day the “Constellation-Mondavi” has its own imprint?

Wow that was a lot of questions!  Yes we are still working with the vineyards that Mr. Mondavi and his family developed including the amazing To Kalon vineyard and Wappo Hill, where Mr. and Mrs. Mondavi had their home.  We still work with the same strong group of external growers for our Pinot Noir and Napa Valley programs as well.  That keeps the continuity very strong and makes our winemaking jobs easier because we have such great history with all of our vineyards.

My first week on the job, I only met a handful of people who had been at the winery less than 20 years.  That speaks volumes to the strong culture here at Robert Mondavi Winery.  When so much of the original team is in-tact it bodes very well for continuing the winery’s legacy exactly as Mr. Mondavi would have wanted it.  Since I didn’t know Mr. Mondavi personally, I’m relying on Margrit Mondavi, Genevieve Janssens,  Rich Arnold, and the rest of the Mondavi team to help me understand what Mr. Mondavi would have wanted me to know regarding his vision for the future of the winery.

How much of your interview(s) with the winery do you remember? Did you feel any intimidation stepping onto such an iconic property for winemaking?

All of it and yes absolutely.  I interviewed with six different people for this position and I remember every one of them.  I was 7 months pregnant with my son and it was right before harvest of 2012.  I remember thinking that there was no way that they would pick me for this position given the amount of winemaking talent I’m sure they spoke to about the job.  I was just happy to have been considered for an interview!  Once I got through the first couple of interviews I began to think I actually did have a chance and then I got very excited.  It is the opportunity of a lifetime!

“Napa Valley” wines are so revered throughout the world, but I am guessing even after working just one harvest, you may have discovered some nuances about Napa that aren’t as well known.  What are some aspects about Napa terroir that might surprise even wine experts?

There are so many different aspects and climates in Napa.  Even though it is a fairly small area it offers so many diverse terroirs.  I think the most amazing thing is the diurnal swings or the changes in temperatures from day to night.  I’ve seen it swing 40-50 degrees or more on some days.  It is remarkable that it can be 100 during the afternoon and cool off to 50 in the evening.  The soil formation is also incredible.  The history of To Kalon’s soil is truly remarkable and complex.  I don’t know if anywhere else in the world can boast of the complex soil composition that Napa has.

Can you share some stories/challenges about the 2013 harvest and vintage?

2013 was an amazing year.  The color is phenomenal!  Much higher than anything we’ve seen in California over the past several vintages.  The biggest challenge of 2013 was how quickly everything ripened.  All the varieties seemed to be moving together.  Verasion at To Kalon took one weekend where it normally changes over a week or so.  I left the vineyard on Friday and there was very little color on the reds and came back on Monday and almost everything was through veraison!  I think there was a day this harvest where we picked Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir and Cabernet all on one day.  That is very unusual!  It was a fast harvest but I think the wines will show that it was a fantastic year.

What Robert Mondavi wines were you responsible for this year, and when will we begin to see them in our market?

I work very closely with our Director of Winemaking Genevieve Janssens on all the red wines made here at Robert Mondavi Winery.  We’ve worked together on blending the 2011 Cabernets and the 2012 Cabernets and Pinot Noirs.  2013 will be my first grape to bottle harvest.  The 2011 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot and the 2012 Carneros Pinot Noir are already in the market so you can pick one of those up wherever our wines are sold.  The 2011 Oakville Cabernet and Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve will be released next fall.  The 2013’s won’t see the market until late 2015 for the Napa Valley tier and fall of 2016 for the Oakville and Reserve Cabernets.