Near West Side Wine & Beer Report for April

Well it’s April and by the time this goes to press most of us have done our federal and state civic duties and forked over some dough to help restock the coffers of the various municipalities, agencies and bureaus which alternately support and thwart our needs and impulses as Americans.  Having dispensed with that bit of unpleasantness, we may now turn to the finer things, like ENJOYING THE HECK OUT OF THIS BEAUTIFUL SPRING WEATHER!!! Here at the Near West Side, beer buyer Mike Clarke and I would like to call your attention to a few of the newer beverage options available in our store.  All are perfect for spring, whether you’re just coming in from planting in the garden or kicking back on the porch or joining with dear friends to enjoy some tasty comestibles.

Let’s start with some new wines.  My new favorite white wine under ten dollars is Terra Antiga Vinho Verde.  It’s perfect for spring: dry, crisp, with a lemon-lime-Granny Smith (the apple, not the lady) splash that may actually be more refreshing than water.  It’s so difficult to find good Vinho Verde without paying Petit Burgundy money these days, but this wine is only $8.99! And here’s the kicker-it’s only 11% alcohol.  In a world where even most “lighter” dry whites come in at 12.5-plus % alcohol, this wine is both moderately priced and encouraging of moderation.  

Nearly as good a bargain is the La Yunta Torrontes ($9.99), from Argentina.  I have tasted a lot of Torrontes over the last couple years and this is by far the most interesting one until you cross the $15 mark.  It has lovely floral aromatics and just enough fruit to make for a nice cocktail wine without making your nibblins taste funky.

One of the most fun wines to come our way in a while comes from the well-regarded Empson Imports, an outfit with which I have enjoyed working for several years.  The wine is Canella Blood Orange Mimosa ($13.99).  Yes, I know what you’re thinking.  Pre-assembled wine-based concoctions are the fast-food five layer burritos of the beverage world: full of junky stuff and barely palatable.  And you are certainly right, but there are exceptions, or at least one.  This wine is produced at a family-owned winery that uses real Prosecco as the base wine for this wine and for a pre-made Bellini that uses only NATURAL INGREDIENTS and NO PRESERVATIVES. The blood orange puree is assembled once per year from five different varieties of blood orange and then frozen for use as needed.  The winery bottles every 60 days to ensure freshness, with the Prosecco being held in tank until it is needed.  So, it’s not made out of crud and doesn’t use bad stuff to protect it.  But the best part is drinking the stuff.  The blood orange dances around the lively off-dry core of fruit from the Prosecco, each bubbly sip just a little different than the one before.  I couldn’t believe it was my own voice when I placed the order so I had to take home a bottle just to confirm the stuff was really as good and fun as I remembered when tasting it.  It is!

Finally, I’d like to mention the classically-styled Pinot Grigio from Lagaria ($9.99). Pinot Grigio has become a sort of go-to beverage for early courses, poolside parties, and light pasta dishes.  And with very good reason.  When well-made, as  this one is, they have just enough of everything-- structure, fruit, acid, finish.  Pinot Grigio is like your friend that you can bring anywhere and know that he will not embarrass you and will likely improve your esteem in the minds of those with whom you gather.

Well, Mike is away on a well-deserved vacation so it is up to me to mention a few new brews for Spring.  First and foremost is the arrival of our beloved King of Spring—Bell’s Oberon ($9.99/6 pack).  People literally cheer when this beer shows up in stores and on taps around the Midwest every April 1 (or so).  I’m one of those people.  Oberon is delicious, combining the best parts of wheat and barley based beers in one shining golden jacket.  Try it with a slice of orange or lemon, and be sure to share with a good friend!

Other beers for spring include a revolving door of bock beers, each of which seems to be available for a tantalizing (agonizing?) week or three, only to be replaced by the next limited edition bock from one of the many fine craft and micro-breweries with whom we do business.  We’d buy more if we could, but some of these beers are in short supply.  The one we hope to have in good supply comes from our very own Upland Brewing, the Upland Maibock.  We’ll have it in store by the end of the month.  If you buy the beer before May 1 and like it, go to Upland on May 1 and enjoy their annual MaiFest, with music, great German-influenced menu selections, and, of course, many of their fine brews from which to choose.  Try a beer sampler and have a tasting party on their patio.

Well, now I’m hungry and thirsty, so I will bid all of you fine souls goodbye and get me to table!

Jason Hill, Wine Buyer