Posts Tagged Binny’s

Finding An Odd Champagne

17 December 2011

To be perfectly honest, I would have loved to have been able to write one of those articles comparing Champagnes, declaring that yes, the 2002 Dom Perignon really is worth $125, but the 1996 only gives you about $300 of flavor, so it’s not worth the $400 price tag. But times and budgets being what they are, a simpler blog post will have to suffice.

While there’s nothing unusual about drinking Champagne on New Year’s Eve, it is possible to find an unusual Champagne to drink. While lately I’ve been doing most of my wine shopping at my favorite neighborhood shop, In Fine Spirits, their Champagne selection is small. To find an unusual Champagne within my budget — that’s with a capital “C” from the Champagne region of France — I take advantage of the large selection at Binny’s.

Unfortunately, the last time I sought an unusual Champagne at Binny’s, the wine consultant steered me towards a Moët & Chandon that was on sale (you can read more about that interaction here). When I asked for a recommendation of a Grower Champagne, he had no idea what I was talking about. I don’t want you to be on your own, as I was, in your hunt for an exciting, unusual Champagne to try. As long as you have good reading glasses, your quest should actually be relatively easy to complete.

My experience at Binny’s notwithstanding, it’s always worth asking a wine store employee for a recommendation first. Let him or her know what your budget is, and ask the wine consultant to recommend a Grower Champagne. These wines are produced by vineyard owners exclusively from the fruit of their specific vineyards. Many therefore regard grower Champagnes to be more terroir-focused than Champagnes from larger houses, which purchase fruit from across the entire Champagne region to ensure a consistent style from year to year.

And herein lies the dilemma for the Champagne consumer: To go with tried-and-true large houses which maintain a consistent flavor profile, or risk a Grower Champagne with more local character but sourced from vineyards of perhaps unknown quality. The French consume great quantities of both, but here in the U.S., there is no contest. According to the San Francisco Chronicle, grower Champagnes accounted for only 3% of the market as of late 2008.

With such a small market share, it would be no surprise if you encounter a wine consultant who has no idea what Grower Champagnes even are, let alone which ones offer the best value. Here’s when the reading glasses come in handy. Most Grower Champagnes are labeled as such, but none will actually say “Grower Champagne.” Why would the French want to make it easy on us Americans?

Instead, you need to look for the serial number of the bottle, usually printed in a ridiculously small font. This number can be on the front or back label, so you may have to hunt for it. Once you find the serial number, note the letter or letters in front of it. Most commonly, you’ll see “NM”, which stands for Négociant-Manipulant, meaning the fruit for this Champagne was sourced from any number of vineyards around the Champagne region. This is not a bad thing — plenty of excellent Champagnes are labeled NM — but it’s not what we’re looking for.

If you’re lucky, some of the Champagnes will be labeled “RM”, which stands for Récoltant-Manipulant. These are the Grower Champagnes, made from specific vineyards. In the photo above, you can see the label of this Champagne also indicates the village from which it came: Mesnil sur Oger, one of the region’s Grand Cru villages, which have (theoretically) the very highest-quality grapes.

You might also see other letters. “CM” stands for Coopérative-Maipulant, designating a Champagne produced by a cooperative of growers (see photo below). Champagne can be marked with yet other letter combinations, such as RC, SR, MA, R and ND, but I’ve only very rarely encountered any of them.

If your wine consultant tries to convince you that RM Champagnes are surely much more expensive than the famous brands, don’t believe it. Like NM Champagnes, RM Champagnes come in a wide range of prices. Get out the magnifying glass — they’re worth the hunt.

Between Two Seas

6 August 2011

I had been mostly avoiding cooking during this recent Chicago heat spell, but as the “spell” turned into a full month, the desire to get back in the kitchen became too great. Despite the 90+ temperatures and a non-air-conditioned kitchen, I decided it was time to get back to the stove.

My thoughts turned to the warm-weather cuisine of Morocco, since we had recently made a batch of preserved lemons. A tagine of slow-cooked chicken thighs, fresh green olives, preserved lemon and caramelized onion seemed just the thing.

But what to pair with this Moroccan stew? It may or may not surprise you to know that I had no Moroccan wine on hand. Instead, I made the most of Morocco’s connection to France and opened a white Bordeaux from Entre-Deux-Mers, which means “between two seas” (in this case, the Dordogne and Garonne Rivers). The name itself already seemed cooling.

Bordeaux may not be especially odd or obscure — indeed, it’s perhaps the world’s most famous wine region. But many people seem to think of Bordeaux as invariably expensive and out of reach, and so almost never drink it. When is the last time someone showed up to a party of yours with a bottle of Bordeaux in tow?  It’s arguably the ultimate snob wine.

Somehow it’s escaped the notice of the general wine-drinking public that Bordeaux can be a staggeringly good value. What many see as a snob wine, oddly enough, is some of the most accessible wine in the world. (more…)

Don’t Put Up With Any Crap

18 July 2011

Now that Sam’s Wine is but a cherished memory, the title of “Best Large Wine Store in Chicago” falls to Binny’s Beverage Depot. (Although I do love my neighborhood shop, In Fine Spirits, with its small but very well-chosen selection.)

I trekked down to Binny’s the other day in search of some unusual, delicious and inexpensive wine to pour at my upcoming wedding. I already planned on serving some Serbian Tamjanika and Vranac, but I needed some contrasting options.

After discussing the logistics of ordering and delivering the wine with “Michael,” one of Binny’s’ wine consultants, we hit the floor. I explained how I write a blog devoted to unusual and obscure wines and spirits, and asked for something a little off-the-wall. He led me to a display of Pillar Box Red, an Australian blend of Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon. Ah yes, an Australian Shiraz — I’m sure no one at the reception will have tried that before.

He next recommended the Peter Lehman Layers, a somewhat more interesting Australian blend once again dominated by Shiraz. I realized I must have been unclear. I explained again that I wanted something really unusual, “like the two wines I’ve already chosen to serve, a Serbian Tamjanika and Vra–”

Michael interrupted. “Oh, we don’t have any Serbian wine here.”

“Yes, I realize that,” I responded, “But that’s the level of ‘unusual’ I’m looking for. Maybe you have some fun Greek options?”

Michael looked at me like I’d just farted.  (more…)

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