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September 5, 2014

Orphan wines worth recommending

Bill St. John CHICAGO TRIBUNE bsjtrib@gmail.com

Wine from the pinot blanc grape is terrific, especially at table. It lies back and lets the flavors and textures of a meal play on top of it. (Bill Hogan, Chicago Tribune)

SEPTEMBER 5, 2014, 3:48 PM A bout once a year I round up my orphans and give them room on this page. They're the wines that my tasting pals and I have sampled and liked, but that don't fit into any larger theme or subject that I might be writing on.
It's a loss for you if I can't recommend them for want of another context. So here they are.
Sometimes, good things come in waves. That's what's happened during the past few months' tastings with wines made from the grape pinot blanc.

Random wine recommendations: Suggested wines without a theme -Chicago Tribune
Pinot blanc
Most serious wine folk consider pinot blanc like a spare key at the bottom of the purse; it's handy if you're in a pinch and you remember it's there. But it's not the go-to.
Its siblings, pinot noir and pinot gris (pinot grigio), garner a lot more attention: Pinot noir because it deserves it — there is little more ethereal from the vine — and pinot grigio because it is the Roberto Benigni of wines, just fun both to pronounce and have around the house.
But wine from the pinot blanc grape is terrific, especially at table. It's like gesso on a canvas, humble and quiet; it lies back and lets the flavors and textures of a meal play on top of it. And in the same way that gesso prevents the paint on a canvas from fading into the weave, pinot blanc makes the food it accompanies taste better than it would otherwise alone.
2013 Erath Pinot Blanc, Willamette Valley, Oregon: When I was a lad, my mom would pour cream in the core of a baked Roma apple; this pinot blanc amps up the grape's creamy texture, wrapping it around ripe pear and apple flavors. $13-$15
2012 Robert Sinskey Pinot Blanc, Los Carneros, California: Three organic and biodynamic vineyards contribute to the terrific complexity of this wine; pure and delicate on the palate but rich and lengthy in its aftertaste; citrus and jasmine blossom on the nose, with yellow fruit and litchi on the tongue. $20-$30 (for 375-ml bottle)
And here are a few pinot blancs from Alsace worth a go: 2010 F.E. Trimbach Pinot Blanc $15 (bone dry; super tart); 2012 Domaine Weinbach Pinot Blanc $26 (the scent!); 2012 Hugel et Fils Pinot Blanc "Cuvee Les Amours" $18.
A gathering on "misconceptions in wine" turned up some gems. Four common myths or misunderstandings about wines, with four examples to dispel them.
MUSCADET FROM MUSCAT GRAPE. Many assume that the wine Muscadet, a dry white from the far western Loire in France, is named after and made from the muscat grape. Couldn't be further from the truth. Muscadet is made from the grape melon de Bourgogne and turns out dry, lean, precise, even minerally, with hints of citrus and white fruits. Muscat grapes make other types of wines, most wildly different than Muscadet.
2012 Luneau-Papin Muscadet de Sevre et Maine "Terre de Pierre", Loire, France: Taut acidity is like a rail carrying honed flavors of cashew, salt, white fruits and citrus, minerals hinting at the finish. $28
WHITE WINES DO NOT AGE. Or so it is commonly assumed. Well, they don't age in the same way that red wines do, developing layers of aromas and flavors and softening out their tannins. But some white wines, especially those with marked acidity, last — 20, 30 years is not uncommon — showing little deterioration. If that's not "aging," tell that to any human with gray hair.

2012 Alma Rosa Pinot Blanc La Encantada Vineyard, Sta. Rita Hills, California: Richard Sanford's wines are exuberantly earthy, dusty and minerally; they smell of their place; tied tight by its acidity, with a soft, milky middle. $28

Random wine recommendations: Suggested wines without a theme -Chicago Tribune
Vouvray, Savennieres, and rieslings from Germany, Alsace and Austria are fine examples of white wines that can age. And this:
2005 I Clivi Friulano "Galea" Collio, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Italy: Made of the grape friulano, it shows little diminution of its crisp, lemon-scented, green applelike fruit. $25
CALIFORNIA PRODUCES ONLY HIGH-ALCOHOL REDS. Because it's thought that California's overall warm and generous climate is good at turning out merely blockbuster, high-alcohol, ripe and tannic reds, people forget that cooler, often high-altitude pockets of the state's growing regions excel at making lighter, less intense, exceedingly perfumed reds too. Just look at all the wonderful stuff coming from the coast of Sonoma County or the Santa Lucia Highlands. And there are dozens more possibilities.
2011 Edmunds St John Gamay "Bone-Jolly" El Dorado Sierra Foothills, California: All-gamay grape; effusively fruit, aromatic, juicy and sappy, just like gamay's supposed to be. $20
AVOID POOR VINTAGES. Finally, the general counsel is to "stay away from poor vintages," years during which the stars of weather and water did not align. Rubbish. So-called lesser vintages can be great value in wine. They're cheaper, they're more ready to drink at present, and they're "Wednesday night wines," rather than special occasion bottles.
2002 Lopez de Heredia Rioja "Vina Tondonia" Reserva, Rioja, Spain: This vintage fell in the shadow of the much-hyped 2001, but it is a lovely wine, whispering aromas of cherries, wood, game meat and leather in a full-throttle fleshy body. $43
If your wine store does not carry these wines, ask for one similar in style and price.
Bill St John has been writing and teaching about wine for more than 40 years.
Copyright © 2014, Chicago Tribune

August 16, 2012

Congratulations to our partner Lieb Cellars for their wine is featured in this weeks "The Pour" in the New York Times.
(content edited to feature Lieb Cellars)

The Pour

A FEW weeks ago, I wrote about wines at the coveted intersection of high value and low price. I suggested that the greatest concentration of value, where you could find wines that were not merely palatable, but exciting, was in the $15 to $25 range. And I recommended 20 bottles at $20 that were the kinds of wines I would look forward to drinking any day of the week.

Graphic 12 Great American Wines, $20 or Less.Related
Diner’s Journal: From the Finger Lakes, a Concentration of Good Wine Value (August 17, 2012)
The Pour: Wine’s Sweet Spot Is a $20 Bill (July 25, 2012) Mostly, the reaction was favorable. But several readers were indignant. “Only 3 out of 20 from North America?” one wrote in an e-mail. “Come on, Eric, we can do better than that.”

Finding good values in American wines is not easy. Unlike in the Old World, the wine industry in America  did not evolve to make intriguing, inexpensive wines.

The United States does not have a centuries-old history of locally produced wines, so it cannot approach the sheer variety produced in Europe, where seemingly every valley has a local tradition of distinctive wines. When the American wine industry began in earnest in the 1960s, the imperative was national and even international. Grapes were selected on a desire to compete with the world’s best and to sell to distant markets.

That meant, as the midcentury thinking went, Bordeaux and white Burgundy, cabernet sauvignon and chardonnay. These grapes quickly became the dominant American models for red and white wines, the most popular and most expensive. Success dictated widespread imitation.

Other grapes have joined the cabernet and chardonnay group: pinot noir, sauvignon blanc and a few more. Still, it’s a small group of wine types that encompasses the entire price range. Lower-end wines tended to mimic the more expensive models, and so were seldom distinctive and often pretentious. This extended even to zinfandel, once the epitome of good American value. As top versions became expensive, cheap zinfandels often became falsely plush and oaky in imitation, losing their fresh vibrancy.

Obviously, I’m overgeneralizing to make a point. Exceptions certainly exist, and things are changing for the better. A new generation of producers now sees beyond the verities of 40 years ago; consumers, exposed in the last 15 years to the wonderful diversity of the world’s wines, are demanding more at home.

Here are 12 great American values, in no particular order, all $20 or less, all a pleasure to drink. Two are cabernet sauvignon, yes, and one chardonnay, one pinot noir and one merlot. But I also have a pinot grigio, a marsanne, a pinot blanc, two rieslings, a field blend and, perhaps surprisingly, a grignolino, one of those locally grown Italian grapes, which was planted in Napa long before cabernet became the dominant grape there. The Heitz family bought an eight-acre vineyard of grignolino in 1961 and has maintained it against all odds. It’s that sort of stubborn adherence to tradition that makes for great wine values.

Lieb Family Cellars North Fork of Long Island Pinot Blanc 2009, $19

What is it about pinot blanc? It would be easy to dismiss this wine as nondescript, as it doesn’t offer a cornucopia of fruity adjectives in a glass. Yet it is simply delicious: dry and creamy with lightly herbal, mineral flavors. The texture draws you in.


August 2012

Congratulations to our partner Sesta di Sopra for their wine is feautured in this months Wine Spectator Magazine!

August 01, 2012

Credit to Chicago Trubune: UNCORKED

Congratuations to our Ermacora Wine featured in this months Uncorked Report!

July 26, 2012

Credit to the Chicago Tribune

Congratulations to our I Clivi vineyard on their recent article:  (summarized below)

By Bill St. John, Special to Tribune Newspapers
July 25, 2012

Every six months or so, I round up my orphans and give them a home on this page. They're the wines I've sampled, at a tasting or while meeting a winemaker, that made my eyes open wide but just don't fit into any larger theme or topic I might be working on.

It would be a shame that they went unrecommended to you for want of another context.

2004 I Clivi Merlot "Clivi Galea Rosso" Colli Orientali del Friuli Italy: When I served this at a recent tasting on the wines of northeastern Italy, participants oohed and aahed over its aroma alone; it truly comes at you in waves of dark, ripe, earth-tinged fruit (the aging doesn't hurt that). How can so much concentrated pleasure come at this fair a price? A wonderful wine and as true to its place as a passport: It reeks of crushed, wet stone. Glorious. $29

July 2012

Congratulations to our partner Mamete Prevostini for several wines featured in this months Wine Spectator Magazine! Ask us about the Corte di Cama 2007 and Sassella 2009!

April 17, 2012

Credit to Decanter Magazine. Our Wine Makers were featured in the April issue of Decanter!




Wednesday November 18, 2009

A message of gratitude and excitement:

October 18, 2009 marked the end of another iconic Chicago brand, at least in its current form, when ownership of Sam’s Wine & Spirits passes to Binny’s Beverage Depot, an icon in its own right.

Sam’s had a unique place in the Chicago pantheon of retailers as the store where you could find the most obscure brand from the most remote winemaking region alongside the most highly recognized wines from the most famous regions and everything in between. It’s not easy to maintain the kind of inventory they had during the “hey day” or to keep track of what was there. More to the point there was always someone available who could tell you about the wines.

There would have been no Imports Inc. if it hadn’t been for Greg Smolik Manager of the Italian Department when I started. Greg was the first person to try my samples long before I had even made the decision to import wines no one could pronounce from a region no one knew much about. I didn’t even know that so few people even knew where Friuli was when I started out.
Greg knew.

Every single person who worked at Sam’s afterwards – and there are too many to mention - contributed to my growth in the field. They fearlessly directed their best and most sophisticated customers as well as all the folks looking for something a little different to Piculit Neri, Schioppettino, Refosco, Ribolla Gialla.

Sam’s was not my only supporter – thank goodness there were many. But Sam’s as a company, as a group, as the individuals who worked there over the years, was uniquely positioned and enthusiastic about carrying many wines from Friuli in the beginning and many wines from the same producer as time went on. We developed a market together. No one else was able to or wanted to show the range of what a region, or a winery could do, and not just my suppliers of course or just the regions I represent.

So I want to thank all the people who have worked at Sam’s for the last 8 years – your enthusiasm, your collaboration, your partnership and your friendship made it all possible. I wish you the best of everything in the future. More than anything, I hope our paths will cross again and hopefully as part of the Binny’s family.

I am looking forward to new challenges as Binny’s comes in with their own very successful vision of wine retailing. I hope to be a growing participant in the Binny’s vision throughout the chain as well as in the Lincoln Park and Downer’s Grove stores. We’re off to a good start I think for which I send a strong thank you to Barbara Herman.

Monday June 8th, 2009

All new website, designed and implemented by Mark Villalobos

March 11th, 2009

Imports Inc featured in Timeout Chicago's Silent Partners.

Unsung hero: Beverly Malen, owner of Imports Inc.
Superpowers: Brings little-known wines to Chicago restaurants. Malen has been in the importing business only since 2000, but in that time she has established herself as a champion of the little guy—small wineries in often-ignored regions that would never have representation in Chicago without her. She started with Northern Italy but soon expanded to other underrepresented areas such as New York, Virginia and Arizona. “Some people fall in love with boys or girls,” Malen says about her passion for her work. “I fell in love with a stupid wine.”

Read full article here.