In the Windy City, weather is generally part of everyday discussion. How does it change so drastically in a day? How is it that 55 degrees can warrant shorts in the winter but a snowsuit in the summer? Dean Martin wasn’t kidding when he sang Baby, It’s Cold Outside during this time of year! When I’m this cold, I need a big bold red to warm up my bones and in this case some premium Malbec from Argentina will fit the bill.

Salentein Reserve Malbec, 2014: This was aged for 12 months in French oak barrels then another 6 months in the bottle before they release it. I loved the aromas of dark fruits, dark chocolate, spice cake, clove and dried fruit. The flavors were incredibly soft and balanced with prune, leather, vanilla and tobacco. SRP of $19

Salentine Primum Malbec, 2013: This sexy wine was aged a total of 19 months in French oak barrels then another 12 months in the bottle before being released. Wow! This has aromas of super robust and bursting dark fruits – juicy blackberries, plums and vanilla. Upon tasting, I noted ripe and balanced sweet black fruits that carried though a certain power and elegance that I’ve not had in a while. Honestly speaking, this was one of the best wines I’ve had in quite some time. I could not get enough of this and yes, it made me feel warm and fuzzy inside. SRP of $65 – don’t let that scare you, sometimes you just need to treat yo’ self!
Sláinte! TCW

Annnnd the holidays are here. Daylight is diminishing, temperatures are falling, and holiday music can be heard everywhere. Despite the hectic rush of the season I’ll admit, I do enjoy getting together for all of those holiday parties! It’s a fun opportunity to share some unique wines -- challenging palates, and possibly turning folks on to a wine they’d normally not drink or purchase.

This year I am all about Rebula (Ribolla) which is certainly one of the lesser known grape varietals. Rebula is a Western European grape varietal that originated in Greece and came to Slovenia through Italy, where it thrived in the hilly landscape. The bottle I recently tasted is by a French winemaker who moved to Italy and met a Slovenian woman who wooed him back to the underrated vines of Slovenia.

This Rebula happens to be an “Orange Wine”. Orange wines get their color from skin contact and are generally paired with more robust meals (similarly to red). Orange wine emerged in the New York wine scene in 2009/2010, as a funky yet sophisticated pairing for food that NY Sommeliers fell head over Italian leather shoes for. The related “newness” of orange wine to the American palate was a success however like a lot of other varieties, the trendiness died down to an obscurity.

Trust me on this…add a little orange to the silver and gold of the holidays! Pop open a bottle, put on a little Bing Crosby, and enjoy the season! The 2012 Kabaj (Ka-bye) Rebula with orange peel, lemon/lime on the nose, and white peach/herbal dry finish retails for a holiday-budget friendly $21. Pair it with a spicy pizza, sausage and peppers, or a rosemary roasted chicken.
Sláinte! TCW

I’m sure most of you remember the movie, Sideways. That’s the movie that literally devastated Merlot sales with one quote, “If anybody orders any Merlot I am leaving. I am not drinking any _____ Merlot!” Paul Giamatti’s character was a huge fan of Pinot Noir and as a result of the movie’s cult following, Pinot Noir sales skyrocketed. Look, I’m as much of a fan of Pinot Noir as the next guy but Merlot has always been one of my favorite go-to grapes – blended or straight up it’s a beautiful wine!

Two outstanding examples of how delicious Merlot can be are TrefethenFamily Vineyards and Duckhorn Vineyards.

Trefethen Family Vineyards Merlot, Oak Knoll District of Napa Valley, 2013 ($40): A blend of 95% Merlot, 4% Malbec and 1% Cabernet Sauvignon barrel aged for 18 months. Aromas of blueberry pie, spiced-cake, dusty oak and black cherry with flavors following of juicy blackberries and dark chocolate. It’s super smooth while finishing long. This wine was even better on the second day of tasting. You could drink now with decanting or age this for several years.    

Duckhorn Vineyards Merlot, Napa Valley, 2013 ($55): A blend of 88% Merlot, 7% cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Cabernet Franc barrel aged for 15 months. This has intoxicating aromas of ripe cherries, cedar, Asian spice and orange peel with delicious flavors of black raspberries and sweet plum. It’s ridiculously balanced. This is another wine you could drink now or age for several years.

Both of these wines were absolutely inspiring but you can easily find some excellent Merlot at a lower price point. So let’s contribute to the movement of #MerlotMe and drink more of it.
Sláinte! TCW   

There is just something special about a Chardonnay. I’ve written about it before, but I understand there are several people that are just not interested it in at all. If you are one of them, honestly, I’d encourage you to revisit the wine. You just never know what may happen. There are several countries making Chardonnay and doing it well. For example, I encourage you to try something other than from California, like an unoaked Chardonnay (aka White Burgundy) from France. Unoaked Chardonnays from France are generally crisp and fruity without sacrificing body as opposed to their oaked California counterparts which tend to be buttery, rich, and full-bodied.

Stoller Family Estate from Dundee Hills, Oregon did delicious job with their Reserve Chardonnay, 2014. It’s been a while since I’ve had a Chardonnay from Oregon and it only reminded me that I need to try more from that fantastic state! Barrel fermented and aged in French oak for eleven months, it delivers balanced but subtle notes of orange marmalade and lemon rind with hints of clove and vanilla. The palate comes through with slightly tart green apples, orange peel and hints of lemon/lime with a deliciously long finish. You can easily enjoy this now or cellar it for a few more years to get even more out of it.

By the way, to maximize your Chardonnay experiences serve it at around 55-58 degrees. Although depending on the region, often the general recommended serving temperature is 50-52 degrees, I find that the true character reveals itself at a slightly higher temperature. Most restaurants serve it too cold which mutes the flavors and could be a contributing factor as to why some don’t much care for it.

This particular bottle retails for $35 but Stoller has less expensive Chardonnays that are great for the value. So the next time you’re at your favorite wine retailer revisit Chardonnay, you just might be surprised!
Sláinte! TCW

There are specific moments in your life that you’ll never forget. One of my moments happened recently when I was lucky enough to meet Todd and Carrie Alexander. Todd is the winemaker for Force Majeure (from my beloved Washington) and Carrie, his wife, pretty much does everything else. Together, they are a force of extreme passion and two of the coolest people I’ve met.

My associate and I met Todd and Carrie at Sepia in the West Loop area of Chicago. I got to know them fairly well during dinner as I asked several questions while we kicked back a few bottles of wine, which were Todd’s picks and they were perfect! Todd and Carrie were incredibly laid back, quick-witted, knowledgeable, and conversational proving that wine experts aren’t always the stereotypical pretentious type!

So let’s talk about the wines…

Force Majeure Cabernet Sauvignon, Red Mountain 2013:  This estate grown Cab had aromas of herbs, licorice, oak, black and white pepper and luxurious dark fruits for days! The dark fruits follow through on the palate with robust tannins and a velvety mouth feel. Although this will only improve for another six years it was absolutely delicious in every aspect now!

Force Majeure Syrah, Red Mountain 2013: Aromas of granite, tobacco, plum, pencil lead, ink and a hint of raspberries (with age I’d imagine the fruit will come through much more). The flavors pack a punch with layered tannins and deep fruits. Although I enjoyed this wine immensely I can only imagine how much more amazing this wine will be in another five plus years.

In fairness, the wines we enjoyed were from 2013 and Todd wasn’t hired hired until 2014. Based on what we sampled though, Force Majeure knows how to make a good juice and with my new friend Todd at the helm I cannot wait to see what the future holds for them. I am confident the wine will be as stellar and as memorable as the evening I had with them!
Sláinte! TCW
Pronounced “Char-el-Lo” with a Spanish accent of course, Xarel-lo is a white wine grape varietal from Spain that is one of the three grapes used in making Cava (Spain’s sparkling wine). In this review’s case it’s the only grape they used in making this still wine.

Raventos i Blanc continues their boss-like status producing excellent wines at an extraordinary value. They recently released two Xarel-lo with a vintage of 2015; “Sliencis” and “Extrem”. The super cool part was tasting the similarities and differences these two wines offered. Grab a friend, a couple of glasses, and have your own taste test!

Raventos i Blanc Xarel-lo “Silencis”, 2015 – From 50 year old vines this has gripping aromas of pear, lemon-lime, pineapple with flavors of lemon, crisp minerality, delicious acidity, and  finishing off with the salt of the sea (yeah, I said that).

Raventos i Blanc Xarel-lo “Extrem”, 2015 – A Bouquet of fresh lemon juice and minerals followed by flavors of sharp citrus coating the mouth. It’s a fuller-bodied Xarel-lo with what I found interesting, some chalkiness. Give this wine some time in the glass and the aromas and flavors will evolve into something pretty spectacular! The intensity calms down and the true character of the wine comes out showing you elegance, creaminess and the love that they put into this.

So which did I prefer? At first I was totally in love with Silencis but after I gave Extrem more time in the glass I started to enjoy that one more. So being the diligent student that I am, I tasted back and forth between the two wines over and over again. Honestly, I love them both, I can’t decide. But I’ll keep drinking these two bottles in hopes of coming up with an answer soon (or take a nap). 

Sláinte! TCW
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