This has been updated to include correct price of Ross' choice.
In the springtime, new wine begins its trek from vat and barrel, all the way to your wineglass, stadium mug or stew pot. But in between the bottling line and your table, it is poured in dizzying variety and quantity onto the eager palates of Chicago's trade and press. Tasting season is here!
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Ross choiceThis has been updated to include correct price of Ross' choice.
Brunello di Montalcino
Casanova di Neri
• Suggested retail and availability: About $54 at wine shops and wine and spirits chains (distributed by Heritage Wine Cellars, Ltd. Niles)
An elegant red of concentration, complexity and power with flavors of plums and cassis, tobacco and tar with the silky mouth feel of fine tannin. "Little brown one" (brunello) is the local name for the Sangiovese grape, grown in much vaster quantity in Chianti, 100 miles east of Montalcino. Gaining recognition only in the late 1800s, Brunello di Montalcino is one of Italy's youngest wine styles but also one of the most historic, having been granted the very first Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita -- a guarantee of the highest standard in winegrowing -- in 1980. Classically served with fine grilled meats, including steak and game, rabbit ragout and grilled portobello mushrooms.
As a member of both trade and press, I've been treated to walk-around tastings, private interviews and engaging luncheons, with the opportunity to taste and discuss more than 1,000 fine wines within a brief two weeks. Here's my short list of wines to look for. While cases may not have hit the suburbs yet, judging by enthusiastic response from myself and colleagues, they are on their way!
Codorniu Gran Reserva Gift Set, 2007 (Cava, Spain): For an elegant gift and enlightening tutorial in international bubbly, look for this boxed set featuring a bottle each of vintage-dated Xarel-lo, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, the grapes that are generally blended into non-vintage Cava. Codorniu was the first Cava producer in 1872; the entry-level Brut remains a critical favorite, under-$10. Now, this historic property highlights its reserve wines with 100 percent Chardonnay, with creamy mousse and orchard fruit flavors; Xarel-lo, with brilliant flavors of mountain herbs and white pear; and Pinot Noir with underlying power, flavors of white plums and toasty croissant richness and firm acidity. (About $100)
Garofoli "Macrina" Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi, Classico Superiore, 2012 (Marche, Italy): Mineral aromas of a fresh ocean breeze introduce delicate stone fruit flavors, bright acidity and long, fresh finish, for an elegant aperitif and crystalline complement to all seafood pulled from the regions' Adriatic Sea (or your local market), including squid, clams, fresh anchovies and the Marche specialty muscioli arrosto -- stuffed mussels. Garofoli joins Dalla Terra Winery Direct, which develops business relationships directly between Italian producers and US distributors, eliminating the costs of a "middleman" importer to provide the finest Italian wine at value prices. (About $14)
Emmolo Merlot, 2011 (Napa Valley, California): Jenny Wagner continues her family's heritage of winegrowing excellence with this voluptuous red. At 26, she is the most recent member of The Wagner Family of Wine, established in 1932 when great-grandfather Salvatore Emmolo planted a rootstock nursery in Napa Valley, specializing in phylloxera resistant vines that spared northern California winegrowers from the devastating phylloxera louse (at least until the late 1900s.
Jenny learned winegrowing from father Chuck Wagner (Caymus Vneyards), brothers Charlie (Conundrum) and Joe (Belle Glos and Meiomi). Her Merlot is complex and soft, with ripe plum flavors accented by smoky oak, brown spice and truffles. (About $52)
Rapitala "Grand Cru" Chardonnay, 2011 (Sicily, Italy): Destroyed in a 1968 earthquake, the cellars and vineyards of Tenuta Rapitala were rebuilt and replanted according to modern viticultural excellence by French Count Hugues Bernard de la Gatinais. This elegant white represents the marriage of Sicily's terroir and French winemaking with caressing texture, bright white fruit flavors with saffron and brown spice accents. Serve to complement elegant seafood, especially with cream sauce, or a timpano crusta -- the molded pastry casserole featured in the 1996 movie "Big Night". Rapitala is imported by Frederick Wildman & Sons, representing the world's legendary wine properties since 1952. (About $40)
Through June 15, Passport to Vinho Verde offers your own springtime wine adventure, with in-store tastings, store promotions and the chance to win a trip for two to Portugal's Vinho Verde region. Easy-drinking, classic Vinho Verde, as well as sophisticated Alvarhino, Loureiro and Arinto styles will be featured at shops throughout city and suburbs; for locations, visit: winesofvinhoverde.com/passport-to-vinho-verde.
• Write to Advanced Sommelier and Certified Wine Educator Mary Ross at email@example.com.