I think personally my best ideas for posts not relating to a restaurant experience come from my inner annoyance. That is where the idea for bubbly-palooza was born. You can read how my inner annoyance was driven mad this summer and we did a BBQ Tasting – the first palooza. After an exhaustive taste test, one of the results showed Jewel did sausages for the grill as good as some of the best in Chicago – read more about the results here.
As much as I’m a food snob, I’m a bigger pain in the ass about wine. I learned when I worked at the Peninsula a lot of what I know from Mike Muser, blame him. He was an excellent teacher and it was a fantastic environment to taste and learn with the pressure of a 700 bottle list guests could ask any question on any night. You can’t BS your way too far on a $500 bottle of Barolo unless you have a small clue. You also have to know what to ask when someone doesn’t know what they like but they know they want it.
My personal go to wines are typically European and a select few labels from California or Oregon with the occasional Washington cabernet. I think Malbec is uninteresting and has no finesse and Australia isn’t my thing because I don’t like Syrah all that much but I do appreciate the region for lush Sauvignon Blancs. I like wines to have age and I HATE when a restaurant list has incorrect vintages – seriously this all goes on in my head when the wine list comes and someone else wants to “take a stab.” So if you see me smiling, it’s out of sheer terror not joy. Remember, I admitted I was a pain in the ass.
From these crazy thoughts, I hear a lot about how local wine is so good, just give it a try – no. We went to this little place in southern Illinois and the wine was amazing – no. My father making wine at home in Michigan because he bought Barolo grapes from the guy in town – HELL NO! But, I also know I’m not always right, most of the time I am but not always. So with the New Year’s holiday coming along I thought I hear a lot about bubbly – Champagne, other French, Italian, Spanish and Domestic. Which is best? What do most people get or expect from the bottle they buy? If we did this blind and no one knew what they were drinking, who would win? Is Illinois Sparkling really going to be that good? How the hell do they sell it for $30.99? Many, many thoughts…
In that spirit, I invited some peeps over to play my reindeer games. The rules I set were simple:
- No bottles over $40 – I bought them all.
- No pink
- A mix of traditional champagne, and other sparkling from around the world
- Allow for random buys depending on what the person at the store suggests or seems good and on sale
- Scoring was up to 10 with a 3 worthy of a mimosa, 2 equaling a college party –above that was relative to personal taste.
With the rules in place, I found fifteen bottles to try. Once home, I removed the upper foil and then wrapped them in aluminum foil obscuring them so no one would know what they were drinking. Put them all in the fridge 24 hours before at the same time. When it was time to taste, I would open and then hand off to be numbered without my knowledge so even I wouldn’t know which bottle was which. I promise I wasn’t memorizing foil fingerprints from the cage cap.
We opened 7 in the first tasting round to keep the later half universally cold and not have some warm up before they got tasted. It quickly became apparent as a group of eight, we all had different preferences on what was or wasn’t good. We blew through the first 7 and then moved on the second group of 8. As we neared the finish, all of us were fatigued with the tasting and our taste buds were getting blown out. We agreed as a group that some at the end may have scored better if they were tasted earlier but it’s hard to tell because the worst bottle we tasted was at the end and we all universally sipped and tossed immediately. So perhaps, we had some commonality after all.
In the end there was one clear winner, Roeder Estates ($19.99) was heads above everyone with the highest average score. There was also a common loser Mawby Blanc de Blanc ($18.99). Check out the table below for the list of the wines by score and price as well as where they were tasted in the cluster of 15.
|Mawby Blanc de Blanc||$ 18.99||7||3.10|
|Veuve Cliquot||$ 28.99||9||4.20|
|IL Sparkling Company||$ 30.99||13||4.40|
|Foreau Vouvray||$ 26.99||14||4.63|
|Chandon Brut Classic||$ 15.99||10||4.80|
|Paul Goerg Traditional||$ 30.99||4||5.10|
|Gruet Blanc de Noir||$ 14.99||5||5.30|
|Bortolotti Brut Prosecco||$ 12.99||11||5.40|
|Loosen Bros Dr L||$ 11.99||12||5.43|
|Latitude 50 Sekt||$ 11.99||1||5.50|
|Santa Margherita Proseco||$ 14.99||8||5.60|
|Dom Bourdy Cremant||$ 18.99||6||5.80|
|Marc Hebart Cuvee||$ 38.99||15||5.80|
|Pere Mata Cava||$ 19.99||2||6.00|
|Roeder Estates||$ 19.99||3||7.20|
The surprises for me came from the Veuve Cliquot being near the bottom and the small grower Champagne that I found Paul Goerg not doing well either. The top five in order came from California, Spanish, Champagne, French Sparkling and Italian – a rather interesting mix. So for your New Year’s Eve night out or the Holiday Party gift, feel confident you can get a decent bottle of bubbly and not break the bank.
To learn more about each, I set up a post with a picture gallery of the labels and some of the tasting notes with their score and cost. I bought the majority of the bottles at the Wine Discount Warehouse on Elston just south of Armitage and Binny’s in Lincoln Park and Whole Foods for the IL Sparkling.
Big thank you to the crew who came - @hugegaldones, @sullyeats, @stockyardpalate, @echmiel, @chicagocousin, @hungryinchicago and @eattravelrock
Joe Campagna is the Chicago Food Snob. A former restaurant General Manager, Server and Chef you can find him on twitter @chifoodsnob. You can reach him through email at email@example.com. Joe has also contributed to Eater.com Chicago and mydailyfindchicago.com.