The enduring, tiresome recession that has engulfed the tenure of two American presidents (third party candidates, pay attention) has resulted in a bit of a paradox. While everyone looks for new ways to save and be frugal, restaurants and wine merchants have displayed innovation. Their pluck has unearthed new – sometimes, in fact, very old – varietals and growing regions.
The new ways of doing business and cutting-edge culinary concepts have perhaps inspired more amateur chefs to do creative things at home. But these newly minted “gourmets” are still price-conscious enough to want the best value wines to pair with their newly palatable – even stellar – meals.
And yet, everyone should take the compliment, “You should open a restaurant,” with a grain of sea salt. Being a maestro for a once-a-month dinner party is a far cry from conducting nightly service for scores of patrons – many of them chronic complainers.
That’s why, it’s still a good idea to consult the professionals – the sommeliers, restaurateurs and retailers who keep abreast of industry trends, wine-and-food pairings and pleasantly engage even the most demanding clientele. They do all this while thumbing their nose at the lingering recession; to them, a “double dip” is still just a finger-food faux pas.
But, even those who stock and list the requisite Bordeaux, Burgundy and Napa Cab like getting bang for the buck. So, Chicago Budget Wine Examiner asked Chicago-area wine industry folks to pick their favorite value wines for under $19 at retail:
Sara Fasolino, CSW, Beverage Systems Manager, Morton’s The Steakhouse: I found this wine called Educated Guess that simply blew me away.Here’s the story behind my discovery: Every six months we do a Brown Bag Dinner with our National Suppliers. Each guest brings a nice bottle, which I put in brown bags. We all sit down for dinner and taste the wines blind. I have the tough job of proofing all of the wines prior to them being served – many iconic wines from people in the business. So I was going through older vintages of Petrus, etc., and came to this wine of the current vintage. Although young, the wine was absolutely fantastic! The round fruit was perfectly balanced with the acidity, tannin and alcohol. I like the whole philosophy behind the wine… everything really is an Educated Guess.
Joe Fiely, Wine Director, The Purple Pig: I’m in love with Volver Tempranillo from La Mancha, Spain. It reminds me of my Mom’s blueberry pie-filling and crust. This Tempranillo is widely available, inexpensive and amazing with so many dishes from cheeses to everything made with pork – spicy or simply roasted.
Keith Youngman, Wine Manager, Binny’s Beverage Depot of Highland Park: I enjoy the 2009 Chateau Feret-Lambert, Bordeaux Supèrieur. It’s medium- to full-bodied, with notes of dark cherry and anise. The lingering finish resembles that of a much pricier Bordeaux – a great representation of the classic 2009 vintage.
Christy Agee, Owner, Leopold Chicago: Languedoc wines offer really great value, especially the 2009 Chateau La Roque Pic Saint Loup, Grenache-Syrah-Mouvedre. Juicy red fruits complemented by notes of vanilla and violet, with well-balanced tannins, make this an ideal match to our grilled wild boar loin with Brussels sprouts, figs, onions and a port reduction.
For a white, I’d recommend the 2007 Schuman Naglar, Kabinett, Rheinhau, Germany. It’s zesty, with notes of pineapple and mango along with green apple. A rich, lush mouthfeel is balanced by high acidity and finishes with characteristic minerality.
Mike Weiler, Wine Director, North Pond: I’m not sure if I have some sort of iron deficiency, but I’m drawn to white wines with intense minerality like a moth to a flame. A great example of a wine like this is the Domaine Girard 2010 Sancerre “La Garenne.” Chalky minerality on the nose; on the palate, there is a surprisingly weighty texture, which is quickly reigned in by sharp acidity. Citrus and hints of tropical fruit lead back to the stony minerality, which drew my initial interest.