Friday, January 19, 2018

It’s been a long time… we shouldn’t have left you...  

Or more succinctly we have been away from this blog for a bit. We started Squire Wine Co. with the hope that regular blogs would be a part of it. Clearly, they haven’t been regular for some time.
Why We’ve Been Gone
A lot of the reason why Squire, from a blog perspective, has been dormant is that I, Steve, have focused time towards exploring a new perspective of the industry as a Midwest regional manager at The Sorting Table. I have enjoyed the change from the floor and the lessons and challenges it has offered. On a personal note, writing was one of my first passions and I am hopeful to return to writing about wine soon.
Ryan has been dedicated to his role at Lettuce Entertain You to spending the bulk of his time in Chicago and a bit in Los Angeles. Ryan took a step back from writing about and intensely studying wine and is currently working on an exciting project that combines the music industry with a lauded Sonoma winery with a new wine company slated to release any day now. He continues to parlay his passion for wine with his love of biking while participating in the annual Chefs Cycle to benefit No Kid Hungry.
How’s Squire Doing
Squire now has made it through its third year of releases: Massican, Cruse Wine Co, Gros Ventre, Jolie Laide, Ceritas, Enfield Wine Co, Di Costanzo, Iconic, and Upwell. We have had successes and also learned many lessons.
We’ve received a great response from the Chicago community about these wineries which led us to more opportunities to represent new wineries. But, the greatest lesson we learned was in order to be a truly great partner we needed to put the main focus on the wineries we already had in our roster. We made the tough decision to switch our distributor partners to Maverick Wine Company as they had more boots on the ground and a larger infrastructure. The move has proven to be more successful than we could have imagined. A leap of faith has created an opportunity for these producers to grow even more.
We <3 Chicago
Chicago has seen a lot of changes over the past year. There has been the great news of Jim Bube achieving the esteemed honor of Master Sommelier and Jon Mcdaniel’s new venture Second City Soil. We’ve also seen the sad closings of Grace, Vera, Green River, and many more. We have lost some of our best to other cities: Arthur Hon to NYC and Alex Ring to SF. Sommeliers like Anthony Minnie, Dustin Chabert, Ryan Musser, and others we are probably forgetting have moved into distribution. New somms have moved to the city and others are getting opportunities to take over lists that have lots of promise. It couldn’t be a more exciting and scary time to be in restaurants.  
The role of sommelier has almost fully morphed in sommelier/manager with time split (is if one is lucky) 60% manager and 40% somm - but, in most cases shakes out to 75% - 25%, respectively. Closing a restaurant at 2 am and getting up in the morning to study for CMS exams is incredibly difficult, and the number of people pursuing that goal in a very challenging environment is impressive. Second City Somms and classes run by Tenzing are an incredible testament to the craft and passion of the community.
3 years ago we started Squire because we wanted to not only get our friends’ great wines into the city, but also to celebrate the energy of the wine scene that Chicago could have. It’s amazing to see the organization through Second City Somms and Second City Soil that has swelled up to push Chicago to the front. We are so appreciative of John Lenart and other local writers who have included the chicago sommelier voice in publications. We are in awe of it and hope to act in service to it as we continue our project. We have seen wine destinations throughout the country like Rebelle, Mason Pacific, and RN 74 close. It is our responsibility to push forward and hold each other responsible to the continued goal of making Chicago an even greater wine city.  
We are excited for what 2018 has in store for Squire and for the city of Chicago.     
Thanks for continuing to be partners even if we may be derelict in our blogging duties.
Ryan and Steve
Squire Wine Co.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Winemakers of West of West pt. 3

Chris Pittenger - Gros Ventre

How did you get into wine and winemaking?

Going into college I had no clue what I wanted to do. During my freshman year at Cal Poly (San Luis Obispo) I took a viticulture course where we made some wine and I caught the winemaking bug. From there it was a bit more circuitous route, going from wine retail to restaurants as a somm before ultimately learning the craft in the trenches (fermentors) at wineries like Biale, Torbreck, Williams-Selyem, and Marcasssin.

Is there a varietal you wish you could grow in the west sonoma coast? What is it?

As winemaker for Skinner Vineyards in the Sierra Foothills (El Dorado), I work with rhone varietals exclusively. I really love making Mourvedre. Seeing how Syrah can express itself on the extreme coastal sites, my interest is piqued about Mourvedre out there. However, since it is one of the latest varietals to ripen, it would be a real risk financially to grow. Unless of course you want to make rosé out of it most of the time, which could be delicious but not a great return on investment. Especially when you can fetch a pretty penny for Pinot and Chard.

What do you think would be successful in the west sonoma coast that has not been planted yet?

I think Grenache and Grenache Blanc could do really well out there…especially the white. Both are more suited to warmer climates but I think the Grenache could produce some delicate and pinot-like wines, while the Grenache Blanc’s acidity would stand out to produce a fresh and food friendly wine. Now I just need some dirt and a few million dollars. Anyone?

How do you make wine more accessible?

I try to keep things simple. Wine is about friends, family, food, and fun. If you can keep that perspective, I think it goes a long way towards breaking down the barriers that intimidate consumers. It really is okay to drink Cab with seafood and Pinot with ribeye. Don’t stress about it but also be open to trying new wines or pairings and learning about new producers, varietals, or regions.

Why is pinot noir worth the price tag?

You could ask that question about a lot of wines. Ultimately wine is only worth what someone is willing to pay for it, whether it is box wine or 1st growth Bordeaux. Thankfully you can find really good Pinot in between both of those price points and that’s were I play more often than not. Pinot has the ability to take you to a place very few varietals are capable. Occasionally it can be life changing but more often than not it is simply delicious. Sadly it is rarely either of those when found under $30 a bottle on a shelf. Fortunately there are a lot of great examples in the $30 - $60 range. Some of the finest examples in the world can be found for less than $150. Last time I checked you can’t say that about Cabernet. Let me know if you need any suggestions.

What is the role of the sommelier to you? Do they inform your process?

Coming from a sommelier background, I feel that the role is to be a storyteller. By bridging the gap from the table to the vineyard with a tidbit or something unique about the wine or producer can make the dining experience greatly enhanced. If you can make the guest feel a connection to the people behind the bottle they are drinking then you will gain their trust and they will want to come back again. And you’ve shared a little about us which makes the wine so much more personal. Most of our loyal customers have come to us after being introduced to the wine by a sommelier.

What would you like sommeliers to know in Chicago?

We appreciate what you do for the little guys. It’s easy to phone it in with name dropper brands, high scores and crowd pleasers. Trust your palate and don’t be afraid to break from the norm. By norm, I’m not saying to add a page of orange wines, rather to find artisanal producers in all categories including mainstream varietals like Pinot. Think of your tiny butcher, baker, or cheesemaker and apply that to wineries. They are working with very common products but putting a hands-on and oftentimes sustainable and responsible purpose to bacon, bread, and goat cheese. It takes time, effort, and passion to seek out small producers dedicated to the craft…and for that we are grateful.

What are your favorite things to do in Chicago?

I like taking in the local food, wine, music and sports scene whenever I get the chance. Last year I got to go to Wrigley Field and stumbled upon a Jay Farrar (Son Volt) show which was killer. There is a lot to do in Chicago…such a fun scene. I enjoy getting a feel for its culture and vibes whenever possible.

What's your dessert island wine?

Champagne. It goes with everything you can find on the island, especially sandy beaches and perfect surf.

What's the single best bottling that you have done?

Tough question as i’m so close to them. Better question for you perhaps. If pressed, I’d have to say my first vintage of Cerise — 2009. It was the culmination of 20 years of pursuing a goal to make my own wine and it was so gratifying to see it come to fruition. Not sure if it is the best, but certainly the most sentimental. And quite likely the best to date. It was a killer vintage and the wine made itself. It made me think to myself "well this is easy…what took you so long Chris.” I wish it was that easy every year.

What’s your favorite single vineyard that you make?

Probably the Campbell Ranch in Annapolis. The site is so remote and bad ass. After nearly vomiting from the windy coastal roads, you pull up to this site carved out of pine and redwood trees. Often enshrouded in fog, you can smell the sea air in the rows and you just know you are in a place that was meant for Pinot Noir. The fruit itself is so pure and vibrant. I like it so much that it goes into most of our wines (Campbell Ranch Vineyard, First Born and Sonoma Coast). Anytime you have an airstrip running through a vineyard, you know you are isolated and on the right path for Pinot.

If you could get a drink or drunk with one person living or dead who would that be and why?

FDR. My great aunt married his son, so i’ve always had an interest and distant connection to him. I have some White House relics from that era like wine and champagne glasses and I’ve always wondered what kind of amazing people may have drunk wine from them. Churchill? Carnegie? Rockefeller? FDR brought us from the depths of the worst recession and through WWII. I’m sure he would have some stories to tell over a beer or cocktail or both.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Winemakers of West of West pt. 2

Q & A with Noah Dorrance

How did you get into wine and winemaking?  The first time I made wine was when i worked at Crushpad in San Francisco.  I had been really "into wine" for a long time but hadn't really touched any grapes prior to 2005.

Is there a varietal you wish you could grow in the west sonoma coast?  I think there are lots of things that would be cool to grow on the Sonoma Coast like Nebbiolo and Riesling.  The basic problem is that the price potential for planting Pinot doesn't inspire many growers to take a chance on anything else, which I understand.  It would be an expensive experiment. 

What do you think would be successful in the west sonoma coast that has not been planted yet?  David Hirsch originally had plans to plant some riesling and maybe he even did at first.  I think it could be really interesting. There is a small plot at Platt Vineyard made by Radio Couteau that I really like.

How do you make wine more accessible? In our tasting room in Healdsburg we went away from the norm.  We tried to create an environment like a big living room with comfortable seating, table service and great music on vinyl.  This warm space enables people to enjoy wine in a more "natural habitat" that automatically relaxes them.  They can do tastings or just order glasses or bottles and hang out.  I think there are lots of settings where wine is presented in an unnatural way that forces people into thinking about it in a super reductive manner.  That's not how I get the most of wine either.  I like to drink it with friends and have fun.  

Why is pinot noir worth the price tag?  It of course is not always worth it, but when it is, it reflects the cost to grow and make it.  To create distinctive Pinot from an area like the Sonoma Coast is expensive.  Pinot very quickly turns boring when overcropped even slightly.  If grown in the wrong place it can also turn pedestrian.  However in cool climate, lower yielding places it can make truly special wine that competes with all the best Pinot in the world. 

Do you find your region more difficult to farm than others, like Russian River? 
I think most of our vineyards on the Sonoma Coast are definitely a bit more finicky.  We have some vineyards we source from that have never gotten more than 2 tons/acre.

What is the role of the sommelier to you? Do they inform your process? 
I think great Somms have really become an integral extension for us a winery.  They are many times the champion of our wines and connect us to consumers.  A huge number of people who visit us or buy Banshee, first found us at a restaurant.  I mentioned that there are many unnatural settings where wine is presented, well great restaurants and their Somms are an extremely elevated setting for wines.  We definitely consider Somms as a key audience when creating our wines.  

What would you like sommeliers to know in Chicago?
Come out and visit us.  There are many of us who would love to show you around. 
That and you guys live in amazing food city that rivals almost anywhere Ive been.

What are your favorite things to do in Chicago?
Don't hold this against me but Wrigley Field if my beloved Cardinals are in town.

What's your desert island wine?  If Ive got refrigeration or ice, it's definitely Salon or Larmandier-Bernier VV.  toss up.

What's the single best bottling that you have done?
Id have to say, if I have to pick just one, it would be the 2013 Coastlands. It has not been released yet but it's a stunner.  Start to finish just epic.

What’s your favorite single vineyard that you make? 

If you could get a drink or drunk with one person living or dead who would that be and why?  Michael Jordan.  Growing up a sports fanatic there's really no other possible answer.  Greatest of all time.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Winemakers of West of West pt. 1

Q & A with Ryan Zepaltas 

How did you get into wine and winemaking? 
I was thrown into it the summer of 1998 when I moved to Sebastopol, CA from Eau Claire,WI. A family friend ran the cellar at La Crema and invited me me to work harvest for him. It sounded cool, although I knew next to nothing about wine. I fell in love with the buzz of harvest time before I learned to love wine.

Is there a varietal you wish you could grow in the west sonoma coast?
 Yes, I would love to plant with some Melon de Bourgogne and Cab Franc on a Sebastopol Hills site. I love Muscadet as an everyday wine, and it would be fun to push the envelope with Melon. Cab Franc is just super fun when done in an elegant style. We’d probably have to crop it too low to get it ripe, and it would be fiscally irresponsible, but we can always dream.

What do you think would be successful in the west sonoma coast that has not been planted yet? You don’t see much Sauvignon Blanc. I think it could be really interesting. Slower ripening, longer hang time could be interesting. SB is not taken as seriously in CA as it should be.

How do you make wine more accessible? 
We really have to push hard to consumers that wine doesn’t need to be intimidating. On the industry side, we cannot roll our eyes at questions that new wine drinkers might have when in tastings, or in our restaurants. It is our duty to help them love wine, and help chart a path for them if they are interested in taking their wine enthusiasm to the next level. We should not tell them what to drink. It is perfectly ok for someone’s favorite wine to be big, oaky Chardonnay.

Why is pinot noir worth the price tag?
It’s tough to put a great Pinot out there for the under $30/bottle because farming Pinot is expensive. The extra care that happens in the vineyard drives up our costs. But right now, Pinot Noir in CA over-delivers for the price at almost all levels above $20. We are coming off a string of decent sized crops, and good vintages. Additionally, the bar is so high right now for quality that wineries can’t afford to not put out high quality wine. The competition is so great. We have the research, weather, the land, and the talent in the vineyards and wineries.  There is so much great California Pinot Noir out there between $30-60. That is not cheap, but the value is there.

Do you find your region more difficult to farm than others, like Russian River? 
Low fruit set in and subsequent low yields at windy, cold sites can make it hard to make sense financially. 1 ton per acre sounds great from a marketing department, but that doesn’t always pencil out financially.

What is the role of the sommelier to you? Do they inform your process? 
From a winemaker’s viewpoint, sommeliers are our ambassadors in the restaurants. For small under-the-radar brands who don’t have a lot of marketing dollars, sommelier support is essential. They introduce our wines to new customers, and hopefully we end up connecting with a customer directly because of their experience with our wine in the restaurant. Having your wine on a restaurant’s wine list means nothing if the bottles are collecting dust because customer’s never heard of it, and no one is telling them about it.

I truly appreciate the feedback I receive from somms, writers, etc. as we are always trying to make better wines. At the end of the day though, I have to make wines that are true to my vision, and what my loyal customers have come to expect.

What would you like sommeliers to know in Chicago?
Being a Midwest raised guy, I would say that they should be proud to be in the middle of the 2 coasts. Create your own wine scene (which it appears that you already have) and chart your own path. Remember the classics, embrace the new wave and find that balance of taking care of the customer and letting your own personality shine through your wine lists without alienating your customers. Embrace all types of wines, but promote only great wine.

What are your favorite things to do in Chicago?
Skateboarding!?, Hot Doug’s (R.I.P.), Catch a show at The Empty Bottle or The Hideout, record shopping at Reckless Records, A burger at Kuma’s, Finding a dive bar with Old Style on tap.

What's your desert island wine?
I could live on Raveneau. In Magnum if you got it J

What's the single best bottling that you have done?
2007 Barton Vineyard (R.I.P.) Sonoma Coast PN. The wine made itself, and is still sturdy and fresh today. Zero adjustments in the winery, no blending, no filtering. If I was to enter some sort of “battle of the wines” this is the one I’d bring.

What’s your favorite single vineyard that you make? 
Not fair! Probably Suacci since it is such a unique site as far as the flavor profile goes, and I lived on the vineyard for a few years so I have a special connection with it. It is the most challenging site, and has the most risk/reward.

If you could get a drink or drunk with one person living or dead who would that be and why?

If I could time travel in this scenario, I’d like to hang with Levon Helm and the rest of The Band during their Woodstock days. From what I’ve read, those days sounded very heavy and wild.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Q & A w/ Andy Peay: Peay Vineyards & Founder/Board member of West of West (WOW)

How did you get into wine and winemaking? 

I grew up in a household where food and wine were very important. My mother was very involved in the local farmer’s markets in northeastern ohio and wine was on the table every night, mostly Italian and French. That was the subliminal education I picked up when young. After a brief 2 year stint in banking after college I traveled around asia with a backpack for a year ending up in Berkeley. I decided to follow my bliss and thought I would become a chef as I loved cooking and eating. I was disabused of that idea quickly by folks in the business who assured me that being an actual chef and liking to cook were not necessarily kin. My brother would come up from Santa Cruz on occasion where he was making wine and we would brew beer and cook. And drink wine all night. He started educating me on the various wines and regions and we started visiting wine country together. On one of those trips I ate a rack of lamb with an 85 Beaucastel and my head blew off. I got it. Sanguine flavors in meat, sanguine flavors in wine. Put them together they both tasted way better than alone. I was hooked on the idea though I knew nothing about the business. I worked for Cain in 1995 as a harvest intern and loved the physical aspects of the job. After harvest I figured it was time to see what wine buyers and their customers were thinking when they bought wine so I became an assistant retail wine buyer focused on European wines. I did not have a budget to buy much but was able to taste wines from all over the world, a hundred a week. That was when the hooks set in deep. St. Joseph tasted like St. Joseph. Cote Rotie like Cote Rotie, Chambolle lilke Chambolle. Nebbiolo…I said “let’s make wine that tastes like it could only come from a specific piece of land.  No fruit bombs that obscure site. No anywhere wine. We want world class terroir.” And we were off.

Is there a varietal you wish you could grow in the west sonoma coast?  What is it? 

Nebbiolo. I love Nebbiolo. The likelihood of that ever happening on our vineyard in my lifetime is nil. We will need at least 30 years to figure out how to grow great pinot, chardonnay and syrah. To add another variety would be a distraction. And, frankly, I am content to buy nebbiolo from Italy. They do a great job with the variety there and we do not have the proper terroir, I do not think. It is like Nerrelo Mascalese. I love the combination of floral aromatics, velvety tannins and earthy palate you get in that wine from Etna. But it is grown at serious altitude on a volcano. Definitely not our terroir. I see much more potential for the grape varieties I grow on the WSC as we are able to harness the strength of the cold climate and soil. We have a long growing season due to our maritime climate and can make wines that express terroir but also have fruit and floral complexity.

What do you think would be successful in the west sonoma coast that has not been planted yet?

In colder parts maybe Riesling. But again, great Riesling is grown in Germany and Austria at incredibly fair prices. Likely it would be prohibitively expensive to grow riesling on the Sonoma Coast due to land and farming costs. Also, more people should grow syrah out here. Yes yields are terribly low and some years you get blanked, and well, yes, consumers seem allergic to syrah, but the wines are delicious and unique like no other variety we grow out here.

How do you make wine more accessible? 

We make the Cep wines. They offer great value as the reds are declassified Peay wine at half the price. The SB and Rose are very distinct and are at a price where you can drink them any day. As far as how to bring people over to drinking wine from other beverages, I actually think many wineries are doing that job for us. The big, fruity, sweet, bold - pick your pejorative adjective - wines are the stepping stones from soda, beer, and cocktails to wine. So I am all for two buck chuck, three thieves, charles smith, IPAs. Some people will evolve and want more from their beverage than a pleasant quaff. Some will not. I will meet them with a glass of Cep and eventually move on to Peay.

Why is pinot noir worth the price tag? 

This is not ground breaking to say but yields are very low for pinot noir in general and quality drops off precipitously when you push yields too high. In our case we average 1.5 tons per acre (below grand cru burgundy levels). It is about half what pinot gets in warmer climates and about a third what you can get for cabernet.

Also with Pinot, you need to be gentle with the fruit in the picking and winemaking so you cannot use machines but must do everything by hand. The skins are thin so susceptible to rot and pinot is best grown in cool areas where oftentimes there is a lot of fog or rain. And all that manual labor comes at a significant cost. Other varieties you can and often need to use pumps, hedgers, skip sorting, not Pinot. Lastly, look at the substitute product to pinot…what else has the potential to show site, to be ethereal yet profound, to engage your brain as well as your belly? Look at the prices from the WSC and we are a bargain compared to Burgundy. You cannot find a quality premier cru Burgundy below $80 these days. At the $40-60 price point where most of us sell our wines, you are drinking village level wine and often, not very complex village, at that. Same goes for Oregon. Prices there have skyrocketed. On the WSC we are comparatively a value.

Do you find your region more difficult to farm than others, like Russian River? 

Oh heck yeah. No question. I have never farmed there but just on the face of it, we suffer much greater and more extreme weather. We have lots of fog and rain so mildew pressure is high. We are on hillsides so it takes much more time to spray, undervine till and do other tractor work (we are organic.) We are also remote. It is difficult to get labor out there. We solved it by hiring 8 full time year around vineyard workers who have stayed with us for over 8 years. That has become a strength but it is very expensive.

What is the role of the sommelier to you? Do they inform your process? 

The sommelier is extremely important to a winery like mine. Our vineyard makes a style of wine well suited for food. Good sommeliers put together a list that matches their chef’s food with the various customer style preferences and price points that work with that food. When they talk with the customer tableside they are trying to tease out those preferences and steer them to the right wine. They are in effect my sales force though they are unbiased, unlike me, as they purchased everything on the wine list. This gives them great credibility.

When I started out I focused my marketing efforts exclusively on sommeliers and not the wine press. I do not send wine to reviewers. I want people to buy my wine because someone they can trust - who has their palate in mind, not their own - recommends it. So I decided to sell all my wine in the SF Bay Area myself, direct from the winery. I want to meet the sommeliers and wine buyers, to pour them every wine I make, every year so they can knowledgeably talk about it. It is my favorite part of my job as, essentially, we sit down and talk about what we are eating or drinking (and seldom about my wine as they know my wines and can taste them without my input). I see 100 people twice per year who care about what I care about and have dedicated their careers to the subjects. How cool is that? I do not see toothpaste salesmen getting together with grocers and passionately and hilariously talking about toothpaste. I love it and feel lucky.

What would you like sommeliers to know in Chicago?

First, and foremost, that there are some really excellent and unique wines being made in the U.S.; specifically, in the western portion of the Sonoma Coast. To show your peers you have good taste, you no longer need to stock your list full of hard to get Old World wines or assemble a slew of esoteric wines from the Jura and Corsica to earn your hipster stripes. There are excellent wines being made everywhere. Yes, I drink Old World wine most of the time but there are a lot of solid domestic producers out there making terroir driven wines that are delicious. Your job is to give consumers what they want and that is not just the same old wines they know or some experiment that “will be good for them” that explodes when it is opened, but a wine and food experience. Not every consumer wants that but many of them do. Turn them on, don’t be lazy. Be open-minded and check out the wineries from the West Sonoma Coast. This ain’t your mama’s chardonnay.

Secondly, call Matthew at Rootstock and ask to taste Peay ☺

What's your dessert island wine?

Cold climate syrah though I hope the desert island is cold most of the year and has lots of birds and animals I can grill and braise. I love the meaty, pepper, iron, sanguine flavors you get in cold climate syrah. Sure, I love white Burgundy, old nebbiolo, aged red Burgundy, Nerello, champagne, dry rielsling and on and on. But cold climate syrah hits me in the belly and the brain. I just want more.Got any Jamet?

What's the single best bottling of peay that you have done?

It is a tie:
2005 Peay La Bruma Estate Syrah
2012 Peay Estate Chardonnay

With pinot noir I feel we have made some superb wines but they are only getting better every year as the vines age. I think we have some excellent pinots behind us and better ones to come.

What’s your favorite single vineyard that you make? 

Our estate, of course! If you mean estate cuvee I would say Scallop Shelf is most consistently my favorite though Pomarium and Ama have been my favorite in 2 of the last 3 years.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

What Everyone Missed In Their Reviews of RPM Steak

What Everyone Missed In Their Reviews of RPM Steak

Shebnem Ince

Over the last few months, several reviews of RPM Steak have been published, and all been completely baffling regarding the wine list there. Amy Cavanaugh, of Time-Out Chicago ( penned an 802 word review of the restaurant, mentioning a few cocktails, steak, blue cotton candy (three times) but zero words about wine. Mike Sula, of the Chicago Reader ( committed 956 words, often sharply comedic and bitingly funny, but again the wine list there remained unmentioned. Phil Vettel bestowed three stars upon the restaurant and afforded AN ENTIRE PARAGRAPH to wine, although much of the copy was devoted to his recollection of beverage director Richard Hannauer's pouring him a Pabst Blue Ribbon at an entirely different restaurant which is now closed. How was this at all relevant???

"Who cares?" You might ask. Everyone knows how dismal steak house wine lists can be. Often they are simply laundry lists of Southern Wine & Spirits greatest hits of the 1980s: miserable, snore-worthy tomes where Chimney Rock Cabernet, Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio and one of Chapoutier's 85,000 single climat bottlings are arranged in somewhat chaotic ways. At one steak house that will not be mentioned here, Paul Jaboulet's Hermitage La Chapelle is listed under the "Côtes du Rhône category, which shows a deep lack of regard of the differences between the granitic graben of the northern Rhône, and the sweeping alluvial planes of the south. But I digress. At one time, Benny's Chop House tried to rise above this kind of muck, and a few years ago I spent some time at the bar sucking down bone marrow and good Meursault from Vincent Dancer. But those heady times have passed.

This is why the wine list at RPM Steak deserves some attention. Sure, there are a few (more than a few) placements that do scream "mandated" , but nothing as big and expensive as RPM Steak opens in Chicago without a little backdoor handshakes and list placement guarantees. The striking thing about this list is how Richard Hanauer, the beverage director, so beautifully asserts his passion and abiding love for wine into the list in such a seamless way. When was the last time you went to a steak house and saw an entire page of the menu devoted to Txakolina? Here is what Richard had to say about this:

Getariako Txakolina, Ameztoi, 2013 - $51
Nothing this delicious should be pronounced easily, Txakoli (Chalk-Oh-Lee) from Spain's Basque region is tart, racy, and slightly effervescent which makes it a natural pairing to the shellfish and seafood of the Bay of Biscay. The grape responsible for this wine is Hondarrabi Zuri (what?)

It's refreshing to know that there are affordable raw bar options besides the tart ,candied soullessness of Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc that seems so prevalent at other steak houses.

The list itself is organized regionally, and often by variety, with a few catch-all sections and several pages with just one featured wine, like the Txakolina above. There is an American Cabernet Sauvignon section, of course and yes, some of the usual suspects are placed there, but in much older vintages, which is interesting. There are also a few unexpected gems like the Arnot-Roberts "Bugay" bottling. The red Burgundy section is expensive, but between the 2011 DRC Corton ($973) and the 1970 DRC Echézeaux ($2173) sits Château Thivin's Côte de Brouilly ($54), a tiny, purple- hued minnow pressed between two humpback whales. Other nice values/thoughtful placements include a 2012 Prager Riesling "Steinriegl" ($80) and the 2011 Acustic Montsant ($48).

All in all, it is a win-win here, both for wine lovers and douchey expense account bros throwing down.

It would have been nice to see some of our city's prominent restaurant reviewers point this out, because it is very clear there was a lot of work put into this particular list.

(In an effort to be completely transparent, it is worth noting that Ryan Arnold, who runs this blog, is the Divisional Wine Director for all RPM concepts, and helped create the framework and vision for this list.)

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Notes of the 2014 Finger Lakes Vintage

Nancy Ireland of Red Tail Ridge was nice enough to write a few words about the 2014 vintage in the Finger Lakes, specifically on the west side of Seneca Lake. 

"We had a challenging year in 2014. The region experienced multiple polar vortices during the winter, followed by a very cool growing season. We were fortunate that September and October provided an extended period of warmth and dry weather that enabled full flavor development and ripeness. Due to these circumstances, yields were generally down this year and harvest was very late. I still have fermentations slowly bubbling away in the cellar. It is early in the game, but many of our estate reds already appear to have intense color and texture. Comparatively speaking, berries tended toward thicker skins and fleshier pulp for both red and white varieties. Perhaps this played a role in the resulting wine attributes; however, I have no data to back this observation. Having recently tasted through my current tank inventory, I believe that the 2014 Riesling vintage will reflect a classic cool climate season in the FLX: beautiful citrus, minerality, poignant acidity and somewhat chalky textures, in some cases combined with the unpredictable personality traits of noble rot. Each vineyard that I worked with this year seems to have its own riff on this combination."

Thanks to everyone who's followed our series on the Finger Lakes and thank you to Nancy Irelan, Wine and Spirits, the whole Sommelier Scavenger Hunt Crew, and all the producers who were nice enough to meet with us!