How’s that for a header? It’s been a bizzzzeeee April, and I’ve decided to do a big, fat mash-up post of my wine-fueled shenanigans. Hopefully you find some inspiration for your spring sipping somewhere in this mad mash-up.
Kicking Off Rosé Season
We’ve been desperate for spring in Chicago, and even though the weather is still being a bitch, at least there is rosé! Provence Rosé Group introduced their new 2017 wines at Chicago hotspot Cindy’s Rooftop (thank you for the invite, Teuwen Communications) and they were delicious! Plus, I got to meet two fellow members of The French Winophiles blog group, Jill Barth and Cyndi Rynning.
But you’re thirsty, aren’t you? Me, too! On to the wines! Château de Berne is located in Provence and produces AOC Côtes de Provence wines. Côtes de Provence is a large area of eastern Provence that produces wines made from many grapes including Carignan, Cinsault (pronounced san-so), Grenache, Mourvèdre and also Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah. Aas you can see from the photo, the Provence Rosé Group’s wines are as delicious as they are beautiful. A quick review:
Emotion Rosé: Look at the cool striped bottle! I want, like, 10 of them to greet me in my fridge everyday! With 50 percent Grenache Noir, 25 percent Cinsault and 25 percent Syrah, this was my favorite. Very pale in color, medium-bodied, kind of a lush, round mouthfeel (I’m a sucker for that style) and bursting with pink grapefruit, watermelon and almond, it’s a porch-pounder for sure. $16
Inspiration Rosé: On to the square bottle! Also delish. Made from 70 percent Grenache, 20 percent Cinsault and 10 percent Syrah, it was a tad sharper in the mouth with notes of tart pomegranate and cranberry. $20.
Château de Berne Rosé: This is the estate wine, which means it is made from grapes that come from vineyards owned by and tended to by Château de Berne, and it is a little more sophisticated in style – leaner, less lush, more precise. Made from 70 percent Grenache Noir, 20 percent Cinsault and 10 percent “other grapes,” it would be delicious with roasted Chicken, sautéed scallops or oysters. $30.
Urban Provence Rosé (known as UP Rosé): This is a from different winery, near St. Tropez. It’s a fun wine, made from Grenache Noir, Cinsault, Syrah and Rolle. It was juicy, with raspberry and strawberry and a hint of white pepper (that’s the Syrah talking). $22.
So, here’s to spring and here’s to rosé!
Rich People & Really Delicious Wine
The Lyric Opera of Chicago hosts a massive wine auction every three years to raise money to keep the fat lady singing. I was invited to a preview tasting, which was, as you can imagine, deeeelicious. Guests were treated to wines from 14 producers, many from California and Oregon and some lovely hors d’oeuvres. And you know, I have to salute Calihan Catering for making beautiful, really tiny, truly bite-size hors d’oeuvres, because nothing bugs me more than hard-to-manage passed hors d’oeuvres.
But this was just the preview. Two nights later, 400 rich people arrived to throw down and bid big on some awesome auction lots, which ranged from bottles and cases of wine starting at $300 to luxury trips in private jets to visit wineries and wine regions that span the globe with opening bids of $10,000 or more.
Wine auctions are a fascinating way to raise money for organizations. I asked some of the winery folks how they’d been “recruited” to participate, because it is no small ask. Wineries are required to pony up serious quantities of some of their best, often most scarce wines. But in return, they gain valuable exposure to affluent connoisseurs who could become future wine club members (cha-ching ching ching $$$) and help spread the word among their affluent friends.
Most interesting to me was to learn that the board members of these wine-auction-hosting organizations travel to other wine auctions to do their recruiting. In fact, the director of the Atlanta Wine Auction, benefiting the High Museum of Art, was at the preview tasting for the Lyric Opera, scoping out the scene, with an eye toward assembling his own rock star cadre of wineries and owners.
And the wineries don’t just send a tasting room manager to do the talking and pouring – it’s largely the owners or executives. I had the great pleasure of talking to Robin Lail of Lail Vineyards in Napa Valley, who is a down-to-earth delight and matriarch of one of the original wine-making families in Napa Valley. Guillaume Large, winemaker for Résonance Vineyards in Oregon, explained how Louis Jadot, the massive Burgundy vintner and negociant, established 20 acres of prime vineyards in the Yamhill-Carlton AVA of Willamette Valley. His Pinot Noirs were just beautiful. Darioush Khaledi of Darioush Winery in Stags Leap District of Napa Valley, poured me his Darioush II Cabernet, which sexy and silky and decadent. Other faves of the evening: Blackbird, Kistler (their Chardonnays are famous), Stag’s Leap Cellars, and Willamette Valley Vineyards.
It was so great to have the opportunity to taste the wines, but just as amazing – to meet the people behind the wines. Because many of these wines are impossible to get, unless you are a wine club member or super-swish VIP. And, I will add, thanks to a friend (I’m lookin’ at you, Veronica), I got to see an actual opera — “Cosi Fan Tutti” — at The Lyric Opera this past February and I was gob-smacked at how much I loved it. So I’m glad that these generous and skilled wineries and winemakers help support The Lyric. Bravo!
Preview: Richard Blais is Fucking Hilarious!
To round out the month, I was invited to a Cooper’s Hawk Wine Club dinner starring celeb chef Richard Blais, who – I’m just gonna say it – is fucking hilarious. I interviewed him before the evening got underway (super nice guy, BTW) and will share a quick preview of a future post.
Blais met the Coopers Hawk people at Aspen Food & Wine last year. He’s fascinated with wine, so agreed to host one of their wine club dinners in Chicago. Coopers
I knew Blais from Season 4 of “Top Chef” (in which he came in second, to winner Stephanie Izard) and again from Season 8 “Top Chef Masters,” which he conquered. I knew he was based in Atlanta, and was known for his creative spin on American food, using a lot of liquid nitrogen – always a show-stopper, especially on TV.
But what I didn’t know: he spends from 75 to 100 days a year on-stage doing “stand-up cooking,” which is a mash-up of a cooking demo and a comedy show. And he’s really, really good at it! He busted onto the stage with a crazy amount of energy, enthusiasm and excitement, flashing his cell phone, doing Instagram live, and dropping a barrage of f-bombs – which had that magic combo of shock and awe that leads to instant laughter and applause. He feeds on the energy of the crowd like yeast feeds on wine grapes and it works.
I’ll talk more about Blais and Cooper’s Hawk (because they are the largest wine club in the world, with 300,000 members!) in a future post, so stand by for that!
Whoosh. Alright. There’s my mash-up. I’m pouring a glass now and taking a 10-minute breather before another week starts – sure to be stuffed with wine, work and more wine. Cheers!