Thursday, October 15, 2009

Trump International Chicago luxuriates in Champagne, Champagne, Champagne

Trump International Chicago luxuriates in Champagne, Champagne, Champagne

by Dwight Casimere

“I really want to promote Champagne as a drink for every occasion and everyday life, not just special occasions.” Those were the words of Trump International Hotel & Tower Sixteen Restaurant Wine Director Steven Lee, as he relaxed in Rebar Lounge on the mezzanine level after one of his champagne tasting excursions.

“What most people don’t realize is how versatile champagne is. It can be served before the meal as an aperitif and then carry you right on through the meal and still be had either along with the dessert or by itself as an after-dinner treat.”

Lee illustrated his point with a stunning, diverse array of Brut Rose Champagnes; Duval Leroy e Seignee NV (non-vintage), Michel Arnould et Fils Brut Rose Grand Cru, NV, Ruinart Burt Rose NV and the piece de resistance, Marguet et Fils, Brut Rose Grand Cru NV. The tasting was accompanied by a mouthwatering sampling of cuisine from Sixteen Restaurant Executive Chef Frank Brunacci, which included a mouthwatering slice of fresh Hamachi (yellow tail Tuna), drenched in a piquant citrus glaze and a flavorful slice of ripe Roblichon fromage from France.

“Most people never think of rose Champagnes as being interesting or challenging. They’re so used to having the syrupy sweet sparklers. What we’ve set out to do here is show an array of Brut Rose Champagnes that can be served from the aperitif right on through the meal to dessert. The Duval Leroy is light on the palate with a touch of sweetness. Its perfect with sushi, sashimi or light appetizers. Things get a little more complex with the Michel Arnould. You’re starting to get into some of that heavy fruit and a bit of the terroir that Champagne is famous for. You’re getting into fruit that gets exposure to intense sun at the higher elevations, and then gets cooled off at night to give the fruit some depth.

“Then comes my personal favorite, Ruinart Brut Rose. This is champagne making elevated to high art.

“Ruinart is one of the prestige cuvées, Dom Ruinart is a true blanc de blancs, made entirely of Chardonnay. The Dom Ruinart Rosé, first released in 1962, resembles the Dom Ruinart Blanc de Blancs with the addition of 15% vinified red Pinot Noir, giving it its distinct color.

“ What makes Ruinart so special? There’s the full expression of that flinty aftertaste of the limestone soil, called ‘terroir’, that is so prized by true Champagne lovers. It comes from the rocky, mineral-rich soil that stresses the vines and gives the fruit and the champagne a unique flavor,” Lee said with obvious relish. “There’s nothing quite like!”

Surprisingly, Lee’s favorite bubbly is an American sparkling wine from Oregon. “It’s called Soter, from the Yamhill District of Willamette Valley. Tony Soter has made his life’s work the study of viticulture and biodynamic winemaking. Their property is a haven for exceptional Pinot Noir grapes and his winemaker, James Cahill, makes superb sparkling wines. Its totally sold out. I was able to get a few cases. We have it on the wine list at $125 a bottle. At that price, it’s a real bargain, since you can’t get it anywhere else.”

On Wednesday evenings, Sommelier Steven Lee hosts the “Champagne Table” in Rebar’s exclusive VIP area from 5:30-7 p.m. “Sometimes, the evenings are like a formal wine tasting, with me pouring and giving a presentation on the wines. Sometimes, it winds up almost like a casual house party; with me circulating amongst the tables and everybody busy having conversations and enjoying the wines. After a hard day at work, I sometimes just let the participants enjoy the wines. After all, that’s what its really about!”

These spirited, after-work social hours allow guests to sample bubbles from a monthly featured Champagne house, as well enjoy hors d'oeuvres and the stunning views of the Chicago River and the bustling activity on the Michigan Avenue bridge. The cost to attend is $25 per person, exclusive of gratuity. Go to for more information on future tasting dates.

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