Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Everybody's Hot New Fave-Malbec Altos Las Hormigas 2011

It seems like everybody is on to Argentinian Malbec lately. Yes I know it's not "new" in any sense of the word, but everywhere that I've been lately it seems that people ask me about it or tell me about a bottle they had that they loved. And let's face it, for most folks a good Mabec delivers the goods. They can range from good simple fruity quaffs to more complex examples, sporting earth and spice elements in support of ripe fruit. 2011 Malbec sales in The US market were up an incredible 46% over 2010 and this trend seems to be continuing. I think that part of the reason for the growth is twofold. One is the new world up front fruitiness of the best everyday examples of Malbec. The other is the desire for fans of the style to find bottlings beyond the familiar Californian and Australian wines that they've been buying for years.

In an industry where decades or even hundreds of years of winemaking are not unusual, Altos las Hormigas is a venture whose 1995 origin belies it's year after year consistency. Even for me, a confirmed old world wine fan, Argentinian Malbecs can be a wonderful midpoint of style between Europe and the new world. The 2011 entry level Malbec from Altos las Hormigas is a great example. Ruby/dark purple colors and beautiful aromas of roasted berries, coffee and peppery notes are more complex than you expect from new world wines. The berry/plummy flavors are never heavy or over ripe tasting and the pepper and spice notes repeat on the somewhat short but soft and pleasant finish. This everyday winner sports wonderful balance and nary a hint of it's 14.2% alcohol. Try it with red meat stews or a simple roast chicken. At a miserly $11.99, you can't go wrong. Cheers.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Extreme Holiday Value - Varichon & Clerc Sparkling Wine

Sparkling wine is for some reason almost never on my radar which, I suppose, is the same for a lot of folks. It creeps back into our consciousness when special occasions are at hand and, like now, when the holidays are upon us. There's so many choices with regards to sparklers nowadays that it can be hard to decide which way to go. As far as inexpensive sparkling wine goes, there's the domestics, some of which are wonderful if slightly to the sweeter side. Some people prefer that style. There's the Italian Proseccos, many of which are very good and also more to the fruity side. And there's the Spanish Cavas, which are usually a bit drier and nuttier than the aforementioned wines. Champagne of course, real champagne, is the benchmark for sparkling wine.

My favorite value sparkler hands down though is a little known wine formerly made in the foothills of the French Alps, but now made in Burgundy by Varichon & Clerc. Made via the Champagne method as it is called, where the secondary fermentation takes place in bottle after the addition of yeast and sugar, the result is the effervescence. This wine is non-vintage, which means that a blend of vintages make up the still wine that forms the base for this bottling, and three grapes make up the wine, Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc and Ugni Blanc. It retails at my local store for just $9.99. The bubbles are small and the aromas are dominated by nutty/yeasty tones with supporting elements of apple and lime zest. It's got a wonderful steely mouth feel and taut white fruit and toast flavors backed by zingy acidity. Imported by one of my favorites, Maximum Wine Co. , this wine is absolutely a great value at this price point. And it's a nice package also. Cheers and Happy Holidays!

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Maculan "Brentino" 2009 - Merlot Cabernet Sauvignon Blend

I've stated many times that I will always skew old world in my wine tastes. France, Spain and especially Italy produce the most types of wine that I love. Because of that, the so called "international" varietals like Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon can sometimes fall by the wayside when it comes to my wine consciousness. I just always gravitate toward indigenous grapes when I'm shopping. Cabernet and Merlot of course are indigenous to France in the form of Bordeaux blends and these wines are often world class with the price tag to match. Thus, they sometimes slip past my frame of everyday wine reference. In Italy, these two international varietals are rarer, but still make some world class wines. Tenuta San Guido's Cabernet based "Sassicaia" and Castello di Ama's Merlot "L'Apparita" are examples of collector worthy wines.

But today I've got a truly delicious $12.99 Merlot/Cabernet blend from the Veneto region of Italy for you. Maculan is a wonderful producer whose whites I have enjoyed many times. But when I got to finally taste this entry level red comprised of 55% Merlot and 45% Cabernet, I was truly impressed. From gravelly soils and aged half in barrel and half in stainless for 12 months, this wine delivers the goods. Plum and smokey cherry aromas are supported by earth and herbal notes, a nuance I always look for from Cabernet. The flavors are fruity and bold and finish quite long with spice and earth notes. Imported by one of my favorites, Winebow, this is one you Cab and Merlot lovers should seek out. Cheers.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Thanksgiving & Pinot Noir - The Pinot Project 2011

I pulled a couple of shifts at my local store last weekend helping folks find their way around while dispensing advice (when asked for of course), and much has been written about what wines to pair with your turkey and stuffing. In truth you could go lots of different ways. But what impressed me the most was that the vast majority of people shopping for Thanksgiving asked for Pinot Noir. It makes perfect sense of course that a lighter style red would fit the bill nicely and Pinot has been steadily climbing in popularity. Of course other light reds came to mind like Beaujolais or even some Chiantis, but California Pinot Noir has what most consumers want - ripe sweet fruit and soft tannins.

Today's post features one of the best entry level Pinot Noir's I have ever had. Some Pinots cross the too ripe and too sweet line for me. Evereyday Pinot Noir should be translucent in color and oriented toward fresh light red berry flavors and no raisiny elements in the aromas. The Pinot Project, despite it's somewhat industrial sounding name, is a Pinot that will please just about everyone - and for only $10.99. This private label project of importer Michael Skurnick has the goods. Prominent aromas of smoky black cherry, raspberry and spice with fairly bold cherryish flavors and excellent balancing acidity that keeps this wine lively. This wine will definitely enhance your Thanksgiving feast, especially if you have a crowd. Cheers.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Table Mates - Lobster and Vouvray Domaine d'Orfeuilles 2010

I wrote up the 2009 version of this wonderful Vouvray sometime last year so this post is a bit of an update with the current 2010 vintage in the spotlight. Chenin Blanc is the grape of Vouvray and it is native to the Loire Valley, having been cultivated there for centuries. It's a late ripening varietal with high natural acidity that easily picks up flavors from the soil in which it grows, in this case from clay and limestone soils that add richness and stony elements. Vouvrays, when soundly produced, are wonderful wines that have the size and versatility to enhance a wide range of foods. But for me, one of the best pairings for Vouvray is lobster. There's something about the combination of flavors, the richness and the zingy acidity that just make the two a perfect match.

The 2010 Domaine d'Orfeuilles Vouvray features wonderful pear and citrus aromas with wet stones nuances. It's large scaled and creamy in the mouth with wonderful richness and texture. The poached pear and lemon peel flavors are offset nicely with brisk acids and a finishing note of roasted nuts. At $11.99, this is an outstanding bargain as good examples of these wonderful wines can easily go for $20 or so. Vouvrays age magnificently and even entry level examples like this will last 10 years or so, becoming more honeyed as they mature. Cheers!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

No power, no water, going mobile-Damilano Arneis '09

First off let me say that my heart goes out to all those folks who hurricane Sandy has devastated. I may be without power for a bit, but those who have lost their homes or businesses are dealing with a life changing event. So when we went out for a bite last night, in part to feel somewhat "normal" again, we visited our favorite fish house, the Blue Point Grill in Princeton. In tow was a bottle of Arneis, a somewhat unknown northern Italian varietal grown chiefly in Roero and the Langhe. This Langhe version from Damilano, a wonderfully consistent producer, is a sure everyday winner at $12.99.

Beautiful aromas of ripe pear are supported with notes of pineapple, orange rind and honey. In the mouth there is excellent body and texture with ripe pear flavors again leading the way with notes of citrus and mint on the long smooth finish. This wine strikes a very attractive balance between it's ripe fruit and supportive acidity. Though less floral than Arneis tends to be, this is a delicious example of the heights that lesser known varietals can achieve. This is an all stainless steel cuvee and it is imported by one of my faves, Vias. Cheers!

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Passero Primitivo 2008

Consumers for the most part love big, fruity wines. There is a bevy of Zinfandel fans that frequent my local joint. They like the big fruit, the black pepper notes and the soft, friendly finish. Well, much has been written about Primitivo and Zinfandel possibly being the same grape. They certainly share an aroma and taste profile. Subsequent DNA testing however linked Zin to a Croatian varietal called Crljenak Kaštelansk - and don't ask me how to pronounce that. No matter, Zin lovers should also love most well made Primitivos as well and tonight's example, though not from it's usual home in Puglia is from right next door in Salento.

This beautifully balanced $11.99 quaffer delivers all you want in an everyday wine. It's almost Chianti like in the nose, though riper, with blackberry, baked cherry, leather and cinnamon notes. In the mouth it's big but balanced, with dark berry fruit flavors enhanced by lively acids and a smooth, soft finish. Produced by Alessandro Sala Selezioni and imported by Inno Vino, this is practically the perfect pasta and pizza wine though it will also pair well with roast chicken or grilled sausage. A google search turned up absolutely nothing on this producer, even on the importer's website. Cheers!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Body and Soul - Altos de Luzon 2007

Crowd pleasing Spanish red wines continue to deliver the goods when it comes to concentration and bold fruit flavors - and at prices one can only consider exceptional values. Bodegas Luzon, a large operation located in Jumilla in southeastern Spain has been churning out fantastic everyday reds for a long time. Their entry level $7.99 wines are incredible values. One is the Luzon Cosechca, a hearty blend of 70% Monastrell (Mourvedre) and 30% Syrah. The other is Luzon Verde, a 100% Monastrell cuvee that is organic to boot. I've had and enjoyed both bottlings many times.

Today however I want to tell you about the step up bottling called Altos de Luzon which will set you back a bit more at $12.99, but may be an even better value given the breadth and scope of the product. This awesome wine is a blend consisting of 50% Monastrell and 25% each Cabernet Sauvignon and Tempranillo. It's very inky purple color leads to brooding aromas of blackberry and cherry jam fruit with notes of cocoa, vanilla and spices - the latter two of which are a result of the 12 months in French and American oak this wine sees prior to bottling. The flavors are also large scaled, with dark berry and plum flavors supported by somewhat high toned acids and smoke and spice notes on the lingering finish. This food friendly wine is a pretty big one for the price and should please just about anyone, especially the "size matters" crowd, and there's nothing wrong with that. An import of Fine Estates From Spain, try this beauty with a hearty beef or lamb stew, or a simple grilled steak. Cheers.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

It May be October But I'm Still Loving Roses - Enanzo Rosado 2011

When we decided to pour a French rose at Nomad Pizza in Philly this summer, we turned to a great little wine from an oddball DOC in the Loire Valley called Coteaux D'Ancenis, from Domaine Pierre Guindon. We weren't sure that it would go - I mean Rose with pizza? - but the response was good enough that we decided to keep a rose on the list for fall. This time however we went with a Spanish version of those great pink wines that many think are sweet, but are actually dry.

There's a big difference between the aforementioned cool climate Loire Valley Rose made from Gamay and the much warmer climate Grenache Rose from the Navarra region of northern Spain. The Gamay is lighter in color and more subtle of flavor than the Enanzo - more complex for sure. But the Enanzo has more color and bolder fruit in the mouth. It's bigger in every way and that's something many wine drinkers can relate to. Size matters for some and when it comes to pizza, bolder roses may indeed be a better fit. There's prominent aromas of strawberry and watermelon with distinct floral elements. In the mouth, the red berry flavors are bold and full bodied with a honeyed creaminess on the back end. And, the best part about this beauty is that here in Jersey it can be had for a miserly $8.99. Imported by C&P Wines, you should definitely seek this crowd pleasing rose out. Cheers.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

End of Summer Update - Petit Chapeau Cotes du Rhone 2010

I have a soft spot for this utterly drinkable everyday red as it was the first bottle I touted on these pages. As many of you know, I also have a fondness for these blends from the Rhone Valley of southern France. Factor into the equation a great 2010 vintage and a $9.99 price tag and you have a winner. This great little bottle is comprised of 50% Grenache, 25% Syrah, 20% Cinsault, and 5% Mourvedre and is a private label project of Daniel Johnnes, which means that the wine was tailored to his taste and imported with his name on the bottle. Mr. Johnnes is one of the most important Sommeliers in the U.S. and imports quite a few wines as well. Most of the top importers now have at least one private label wine in their portfolio.

The Petit Chapeau red has just what you expect from a Cotes du Rhone, with classic aromas of black cherry, cola, damp earth and a note of black pepper. In the mouth it has excellent concentration to it's dark berry flavors, but never tastes heavy as it's bright acids lend balance and give it lift. It finishes long and lightly tannic and should make excellent company for a roast chicken, grilled sausage or even grilled shrimp. Imported for Daniel Johnnes by Michael Skurnick. Cheers!

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Monchhof Estate Riesling 2011

German wines in general, and in particular the Rieslings, continue to be under appreciated by American consumers, even though there are many folks who like their wine a little on the sweet side. A lot of people come in the store I frequent for their white Zinfandel or other sweetish factory wine. Yes these wines are cheap, but once I get people to try a good German Riesling with it's fruity sweetness, balancing acidity and stony minerality, they become more open minded and more open to throwing down a few extra dollars. As they say, "life's too short to drink bad wine". Which brings me to the Monchhof Estate Riesling.

Germany had a difficult spring and early summer in 2011 but the weather turned perfect in August and September and producers were able to harvest fruit in very good condition with optimal ripeness. This estate has been a wine producing entity for some 800 years and it's current owners, the Eymal family, have been producing here since purchasing the estate in 1804. They have holdings in some of the best vineyards in Mosel and this may be the best $14.99 Riesling that money can buy. It's got beautiful aromatics with apricot, peach and that typical stony element so common to good German Riesling. This stony element comes from the slate laden soils of the steep hillside vineyards. In the mouth, this beauty is full-bodied with a somewhat oily texture and white, stone fruit flavors. It's long, lingering finish is sweet but balanced by bracing acidity. This interplay between residual sugar and acidity is an important quality here, the acidity making the wine taste less sweet than it is. This low alcohol wine goes well with Asian food, as an aperitif or even with a fresh fruit dessert. Imported by the Maximum Wine Company from the broker Rudi Wiest. Cheers.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Familia Grittini Areo Malbec 2009

Many Argentinian Malbecs continue to impress me and this $9.99 version from a little known region of Patagonia called Neuquen is a sure everyday winner. It took me quite awhile to find a website associated with the winery as it's name does not appear anywhere in the url. The Areo bottling was not listed anywhere and the importer's website (Simone International) offered no information either. Oh well, this region to the south of Mendoza, Argentina's leading wine producing area, is cooler and supposedly produces wines that are "more European" in style then those from the warmer climates to the north. I had my doubts when I noticed the 14.6% alcohol listing on the label as that kind of ripeness usually says "new world" to me.

Indeed, this wine is boldly fruited and large scaled and has everything you expect from a wine from this side of the Atlantic. To it's credit though, it also presents a measure of complexity you don't usually get at this price point. Big aromas of chocolatey cherry and coffee are prominent along with secondary notes of clove and earth. In the mouth, it's fairly full bodied with dark red fruit flavors and lingering spice notes on the finish. It hides it's high alcohol well with just a hint of heat on the back end.

Fans of the style will find a lot to like here and it's low acid flavors went well with grilled swordfish with pasta and a sauce of tomatoes, eggplant and mint. This fantastic recipe is from a friend and fantastic chef, Jack Kreitzman, whose San Francisco restaurant Jackson Fillmore Trattoria is a spot you should definitely check out when you visit the bay area. It's home style Italian cooking at it's best and at affordable prices. Cheers.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Under the Radar Italy - Gini Soave Classico 2010

Italy is such a vast source of wine. Every other day it seems I read another article about some little known DOC where amazing juice comes from practically unheard of grapes. My favorite blogger Tom Hyland of "Learn Italian Wines" has written extensively on Italian whites of late and it's clear that they are in general a vast and largely under-appreciated category. His post on Soave back in June was eye opening and led me right down to my local joint to see what they had from the region. I remember Bolla's Soave from my youth as being a regular bottle in our house. Choices were fewer back then. Now however, there are great examples of excellent Soave here in the states and tonight's entry level pour from Gini, a top producer in the zone, is one of them.

Made from 100% Garganega grapes that are produced just a bit shy of organic, this bottling is a great example of just how good these wines can be. After a bit of airing, it's aromas open to reveal pineapple, white peach and honey along with floral and nutty nuances. In the mouth, it's medium-bodied white fruit flavors are less tropical than the nose suggests yet fairly bold and wonderfully textured. There is excellent balancing acidity and a long minerally finish. Garganega is an indigenous varietal that ripens late and is too often blended with other varietals such as Pinot Blanc and Trebbiano. On it's own though, it can produce great wines like Gini's. Fermented entirely in stainless and left to rest on it's lees for 6 months, this beauty set me back $13.99. It's imported by Michael Skurnick.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Wine Ratings - The Fallacy of the 100 Point Scale

While working the Friday rush hour at my local wine shop this summer, I came to notice the different kinds of buyers and their strategies. There's the browsers, the label shoppers, the knowledgeable folks who want to talk wine and take a recommendation and the folks who buy by the numbers. These wine shoppers limit their choices to the wines that have big scores from the big critics. Robert Parker, Steve Tanzer and The Wine Spectator are probably the most high profile critics in the business and they all use the 100 point scale. Now don't get me wrong, all of these professionals have been reviewing wine for a lot longer than me and they all have impeccable credentials. I follow Parker and Tanzer in particular, the former because he is the most influential and the latter because I love his tasting notes and the fact that he talks to a lot of the winemakers.

The problem I have is that in our numbers oriented society, the 100 point scale can lead consumers to wrong conclusions. These consumers spend their shopping time reading the "shelf talkers" that are put up by the reps for the wholesalers to tout their high scoring products. But there are many different styles of wine. So for example, 88 points for a Beaujolais and 88 points for a California Cabernet are two completely different worlds. A lighter styled and delicate Beaujolais will probably not please someone with a taste for bigger, brawnier Cali Cab, 88 point score or not. It's way more important to actually read the reviewer's comments on the wine than to focus on the number. Foxglove Chardonnay (which I have written up) from California's Central Coast received a 90 point score from Robert Parker for the '09 vintage. The '09 had sold through and the '10 was on the shelf. This one particular customer would not buy the '10 no matter how hard I tried to convince him that there was probably very little difference between the two vintages. California has remarkably consistent weather and thus has very few bad vintages. Factor in a reputable producer like Varner, the winery that makes Foxglove, and you have about a 90% chance of  acquiring a very good to excellent wine. No 90 point score? Sorry, no sale. It's really disappointing to me when I see that. And, the '10 ended up getting a 90 from Parker anyway. Here's another example. A reviewer gives 90 point scores to both a $7.99 Spanish wine and an $80 red Burgundy. The consumer may think that the Spanish wine is the equal of that Burgundy. Not a chance. Again, these wines are from two different worlds. The Spanish wine will be fruity and basic while the Burgundy will have more elegance, complexity and staying power in terms of being able to age, all the while picking up more nuance and smoothing out it's components. Those two 90 point scores are not equal. What the reviewer says about the wine is much more important than the number itself.

In addition, having grown up in an educational system where numbers rule, some of these shoppers think that anything under 90 points is not even worth drinking. Will there really be an obvious difference between an 87 point wine and a 90 point wine? Probably not, and if so would one be able to pick out which is which in a blind tasting? I doubt it. It's sad because consumers consistently miss out on some really tasty juice simply because there is no number at all, or no big number attached to it. For me, wine is a living thing that changes and matures, even over the short term and even in the everyday category. And that means that it just can't be quantified, no matter how hard we try.  Cheers.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Real Deal Oregon - Rascal Pinot Noir

I've always loved Oregon Pinot Noir. It kind of bridges the old world style of Burgundy and the very fruity new world style of California with elements of both. In general, Oregon Pinots are fruitier than the former but sexier and more delicate than the latter and Pinot Noir fans should really experiment with these wines. If you're describing your everyday Pinot as "jammy", then it won't work for me. If your everyday Pinot is opaque, then it's probably too ripe and sweet for me. Pinot Noir should be light colored and translucent.

Which brings me to today's great find, Rascal Pinot Noir 2011 from the Great Oregon Wine Company. This may be the best entry level Pinot Noir I've tasted and at $8.99, it's a steal. Plus it's pure Willamette Valley fruit. Nowadays, the origin designation you get at this price point usually says something like "California", which means you get Central Valley fruit. Classic Pinot aromas of raspberry, cherry and cinnamon spice greet you. In the mouth, it's light bodied yet full flavored with wonderful red berry flavors, excellent acidity and a toasty note on the back end. It finishes a bit short, but all in all, this is a great example of what I think real Pinot Noir should be. This beauty paired perfectly with a simple roast chicken and it's delicate nature should also make it a great fit with grilled salmon. Cheers.

Update - I get a lot of hits on this post so I thought an update was in order. Once the 2011 of this wine sold out, the producers bottled a non-vintage version which probably consisted of 2010 and 2011 juice. Both '10 and '11 were small yield vintages. The bottling was okay but a lot of retailers passed on it as it is harder to sell non-vintage.  It appears that the 2012 Oregon vintage is both better and higher yielding then '10 or '11 and hopefully the 2012 Rascal will be released soon.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Parusso Rosato "Paruss" 2011

The Armando Parusso Estate in Monforte d'Alba, Italy is one of the most well known and highly regarded wineries in Piedmont. Known for their high end Barolos made from the Nebbiolo grape, they have been turning out world class wines for a long time. Nebbiolo is absolutely one of my favorite grapes and can be found not only as Barolo, but as Barbaresco and the entry level Nebbiolo d'Alba as well. It's also found in the wines of more out of the way places such as Ghemme and Carema as well.

Here however, we focus on the everyday wine for everyday consumption so when Nebbiolo roses started showing up on retailer's shelves a few years ago, I took note. This summer has been brutally hot here on the east coast and we have been drinking a lot of chilled wine. The Nebbiolo rose called "Paruss" from the Parusso estate is a fantastic $11.99 value. It's got big aromas of watermelon and light red berries along with floral and mineral notes. The flavors are just as big with the berries in the lead, notes of honey and a slight peppery quality. The bright, balancing acidity makes this a great food wine. Imported by Montecastelli, don't hesitate to pick up a bottle of this great summer quaffer. We drank this with a fantastic Mario Batali dish - chicken thighs with saffron, green olives and mint. Cheers.

Monday, July 30, 2012

A Break From the Heat & Back to the Reds - Ch. Beauchene Cotes du Rhone

There was actually something cool feeling in the air tonight and it felt great to sit out on the deck, lingering with dinner and the juice of the vine. After all, neither man nor woman can live with whites and roses alone. Variety is key. So when we decided on some pasta with a raw sauce of avocado, tomatoes and garlic, I just had to open a Cotes du Rhone. It had been awhile. This recipe is a house favorite and comes from Viana La Place and her wonderful Italian cookbook "Verdura". The sauce prior to adding the pasta is pictured here.

Wine is what we are all about here though so here I go. The 2010 Cotes du Rhone from Chateau Beauchene is a perfectly delicious $10.99 red. This cuvee is comprised of 60% Grenache, 27% Syrah, 10% Carignan, and 3% Cinsault from stony, alluvial soils. It's got raspberry compote and bright red cherry on the nose along with typical black pepper and Provencal herb accents. It's fairly generous of mouth feel with red berry and red plum flavors, bright acidity and some lightly dusty tannins on the finish. Though not the most intriguing Cotes du Rhone around, this is none the less a wonderful mid-week bottle. Imported by Regal Wine Imports. Cheers.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Case Ibidini Nero d'Avola 2009

Nero d'Avola, Sicily's most important grape, is often compared to Australian Shirazes. And while they share a warm climate with plenty of sun and little rain, this comparison usually doesn't work for me, especially at the everyday level. I find most Nero d'Avolas more balanced and food friendly than the aforementioned Australian wines, whose flavors run much more to raisiny over-ripeness and high alcohol. This version, another fine product of Polaner Selections, cost me an affordable $11.99. Produced by Valle dell'Acate, a winery now under 6th generation management, this graceful red delivers the goods. A beautiful translucent ruby color yields delicate raspberry, maraschino cherry and a stony minerality on the nose. The mouth filling yet somewhat high toned medium-bodied flavors run toward tart cherry and pomegranate with bracing acidity and a long, smooth finish. This paired very well with pasta with escarole and basil from the garden and cannellini beans. I'll take this over Australian Shiraz any day. Cheers.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Marques de Riscal Rueda Blanco 2010

I've become a big fan of many of the Spanish whites I've tasted over the last couple of years. Many of them are light and easy to drink and are the antithesis of many of the large scaled, heavy handed Spanish reds in the entry level category. Marques de Riscal is a winery that was founded in 1858 and there is a long track record of success. From the Rueda DO in Northwestern Spain, a high plains plateau, this everyday white wine is a blend comprised of mostly Verdejo with a small amount of Viura, both indigenous grapes. Somewhat nutty, leesy aromas are buoyed by pineapple, green apple and grassy notes. In the mouth, the somewhat oily texture yields medium bodied flavors of apple, melon and mint. There is excellent balance and crisp, vibrant acidity which makes this a refreshing, delicious summer drink. It finishes slightly tart and long. For the $9.99 price, this quaffer is hard to beat. Cheers!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Poderi Colla Dolcetto d'Alba - "Pian Balbo" 2010

The Piedmont district of northern Italy is home to some of the worlds most famous and long lived wines. Barolo and Barbaresco, made from the Nebbiolo grape, usually need 10 to 15 years to begin rounding into shape and then last even longer than that. Producers like Gaja, Conterno, Voerzio and many others are known the world over. But even in Piedmont, when it comes to everyday drinking, Dolcetto rules. Cultivated since the middle ages, this early ripening varietal, although found in a few other places in Italy (such as Oltrepo Pavese near Verona) does best in the cooler, hillier areas in Piedmont. Here, the extra hang time contributes to more even ripening.

Poderi Colla has been around Piedmont since the 18 century and the current generation makes traditionally styled wines that complement food in every way. This bottling is from a single vineyard planted at 885 ft. in altitude with southern and western exposures. Slow to open aromas gradually reveal beautiful bitter cherry, clove, nutmeg and floral notes. This is one of those wines I could sit and sniff for a long while. In the mouth it's a bit less complex than the aromas and light to medium in body with the bitter cherry flavors dominating and vibrant acidity giving it lift. A little like pinot noir in flavor, it finishes with some dusty tannins. This is a great weeknight wine that is fresh and lively and sees no wood at all. A selection of the wonderful broker Neil Empson, this lovely $12.99 Dolcetto went great our hometown pizza from Nomad Pizza. Cheers.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Off the Beaten Path Italy - Terredora Dipaolo Falanghina 2010

Southern Italy boasts a huge number of overlooked, under appreciated  and downright ignored indigenous varietals. Names like Gaglioppo, Cannonau, Fiano, Piedirosso, Negroamaro and Grillo are just a few of the grape names that make southern Italian wines. As a fan of the local varietals, nothing is more interesting to me than delving into wines derived from this fruit. In the southern Italian region of Campania, several white varietals make wines that some of us are familiar with. Names like Fiano di Avellino, Lacryma Christi and Greco di Tufo are fairly common in the American marketplace. Falanghina on the other hand, is less well known. And, for everyday purposes like mine, those more well known wines are most likely going to cost more than $15 and more often approach the $20 mark.

Not so with Terredora Dipaolo's wonderful $13.99 Falanghina. This virtually unknown varietal makes a wine that is a crisp, refreshing everyday white that will work well with all your fish dishes, grilled shrimp and even simple grilled chicken. I tasted the 2010 for this post but with the consistently nice weather in this part of Italy, vintage is less important than with other wine regions. This tasty wine has some typical hot climate white wine aromas of candied apple and white peach along with apricot and floral notes. In the mouth, it's fairly fat and fruity with apple, peach and citrus flavors, but it is still balanced out with bright acidity. It finishes with toast and honey notes. Aged for a time on it's lees in stainless steel, this refreshing wine sees no wood whatsoever. It's imported by one of my favorites, Vias. Also, one of my favorite wine writers, Tom Hyland, has a couple of reports on Campania whites on his blog, learnitalianwines. Be sure to check him out. Cheers!

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Definitely too Hot for Big Red Wine - These Cool Quaffers Save the Day

I usually love to open a friendly everyday red when we're grilling chicken, but with temps in the mid 90's again, I had to go with a couple of chillers. These are beautiful wines, one white and one rose, and they were perfect on the deck with some dinner as the sun got low in the sky and the temperature began to fall. They are both from oddball AOC's in the Loire Valley made from grapes that are not.

The white is a 100% Chenin Blanc cuvee from Coteaux du Vendomois, which is a bit north of Vouvray, the appellation where the best Chenin Blancs in the world come from. The producer is Domaine de Brazilier and this bright, crisp white has all that you want from an everyday summer wine. Aromas of grapefruit, lime zest and white flowers are very prominent. There's beautiful texture in the mouth with bold citrus fruit flavors, a bit of stoniness and bracing acidity. It's light, crisp and very refreshing and it kept me coming back for more.

The rose is a 100% Gamay cuvee. Gamay is a grape that is usually associated with Beaujolais and not found too much in the Loire. From the Coteaux d'Ancenis AOC and produced by Domaine Pierre Guindon, this beautiful wine delivers the goods. Strawberry and raspberry aromas are supported by notes of watermelon and a distinct minerality. Again, the texture is very smooth with the red berry flavors repeating. The balance is outstanding, with bright acids giving it lift and notes of candied orange on the dry, refreshing finish. These are both from the 2011 vintage and retail for around $12.99. Imported by the quality importer, Maximum Wine Company, these are two to seek out. The wonderful wine critic Steve Tanzer said of this wine, "I could drink this all day". Me too! Cheers.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

99 Degrees - Rose to the Rescue Domaine Houchart Cotes de Provence 2011

Now I'm not one to totally turn my back on red wines during the summer months, but last week's temperatures found me taking a pass on the reds. I love dry roses this time of year - cold, fruity and refreshing. They go well with just about anything and I think they are a must have for the kitchen rack during grilling season. Years ago the choices for dry roses in the marketplace were not nearly as diverse as they are now and you can pretty much find these beautiful pink wines from every country in almost every varietal. Yet for some reason, consumers are still wary of these wines. I'm not sure if they think that they're sweet but there is clearly some reticence on the part of many buyers.

The beautiful 2011 Cotes de Provence rose from Domaine Houchart is one I could drink all day long. A blend of Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault, Cabernet Sauvignon and Mourvedre from 40 year old vines, the light salmon pink color leads to typical light red berry aromas of strawberry and raspberry. There's also floral notes and a touch of stony minerals. It's got beautiful texture, excellent medium bodied, red berry flavors, good balancing acidity and a long, creamy finish. Try this with grilled chicken, salmon or shrimp, a white pizza with clams or even sushi. Repped by David Milligan Selections, this $11.99 rose is a sure winner. Bottoms up!

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Fattoria Laila Rosso Piceno '09

Rosso Piceno is a little known DOC in the Marche region on Italy's east coast. I've already written up Fattoria Laila's delicious Verdicchio dei Castello di Jesi, and the best reds from this region are dominated by the Montepulciano grape. Sangiovese is the other major varietal. Prior to 2005, Sangiovese was required in the blend to the tune of 60%. But now Montepulciano can presumably go as high as 70%, although the producer's website claims this wine is 80% Montepulciano. It's certainly confusing. But, what is not confusing is that this wine is an excellent $9.99 value. The almost opaque ruby color certainly looks more like Montepulciano than Sangiovese and initially reticent aromas gradually opened with airing to reveal dark cherry, cola, coffee and minty notes. Attractive dark berry flavors are buffeted with excellent acidity and a lightly tannic finish. This everyday winner has good concentration and lift and went well with grilled lamb burgers with grilled onions and raita. Imported by Montecastelli, a company with a great Italian portfolio. Cheers.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Moulin de Gassac "Guilhem" 2011 - Vins de Pays d'Herault

Every once in a while you stumble upon a wine that you you've never seen, know nothing about and would not even give it a second thought if your retailer hadn't put it in your hands and said "try this". Such is the case with this little southern French white. Moulin de Gassac is the everyday label for wines made by one of the oldest and most important wineries of this almost unknown region. Mas de Daumas Gassac is the name and they have been making a legendary Cabernet Sauvignon for a long time. That flagship Cab lasts easily for 20 years but we are here to report on the everyday white. "Guilhem" is the proprietary name and what matters is that this is a delicious $9.99 white that will drink well as an aperitif or as an accompaniment to grilled or sauteed fish dishes. It's a blend of 40% Grenache Blanc, 30% Sauvignon Blanc and 30% Clairette. It features tropical fruit aromas of pineapple, mango and a touch of honey. In the mouth it's got more concentration than you expect with the tropical fruit theme repeating. Notes of apricot add complexity and there is enough acidity to keep it fresh and lively tasting. I wish more folks would take a chance on bottles like this as you can readily find interesting wines from unusual places nowadays. Imported by Beaune Imports. Cheers!

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Hayman & Hill Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve Selection 2010

Here's a California Cabernet that will win the hearts of the pure fruit crowd with ease. Made by a winery that sources this fruit from various vineyards in the Paso Robles AVA, a cooler area than Napa on the central coast, this simple quaffer has had it's praises sung in lots of place here on the web. It's got nice blueberry, plum and cocoa aromas with oak spice elements that support rather than overwhelm. It's even got a touch of bell pepper in the nose that lead me to believe that there might be a touch of Cabernet Franc in the blend. It's got good acidity and balance, and while it's got all the up front dark fruit and supporting oak flavors you want from new world cab, I was left wishing that this wine had more true Cabernet Sauvignon character. It's just missing some of those graphite and/or loamy flavors that really good Cab can give you. Still, at $13.99 a bottle, there's a lot of folks that will find a lot to like with this wine. Cheers.

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Bodegas Atalaya "Laya" 2010

Here's a $7.99 Spanish wine that delivers what many wines costing twice as much can't possibly muster. This winery is a project of the Gil Family Estates, a group that produces a bevy of wonderful everyday Spanish wines. Here they have a sure winner that is comprised of 70% Garnacha Tintorera (also known as Alicante Bouschet) and 30% Monastrell (Mourvedre). Your met first with an inky black/dark purple color. There's very primary chocolatey cherry and dark berry aromas with a touch of peppery spice. The flavors are very large scaled, sweet and fruity yet there's no hint of over-ripeness here. It finishes fairly long with with coffee and spice notes and soft tannins. There's plenty of acidity to balance out the fruit and plenty of fruit to hide the 14.5% alcohol. From the Almansa DO in Southeastern Spain, a very warm region, I'm sure that the 2500 ft. in altitude that these vines live in help keep these grapes from getting too ripe. Although it's not the most complex quaff around, it's still an amazingly fruity and easy drinking wine for the price. Imported by Opici Imports, you really can't do much better for $7.99. Cheers.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Domaine du Pesquier Cotes du Rhone 2009

I've previously stated my love for these wines for everyday use and here is another great example from the fantastic '09 vintage. There is something special about the Grenache grape from this part of the world. In this version, the blend is 70% Grenache, 20% Mourvedre and 10% split between Carignan and Cinsault. This beauty features prominent aromatics of dark berries, licorice and pepper. It's bold, very ripe and fruity in the mouth, with coffee and earthy notes. It finishes long and lightly tannic, though in this case the fruit balances the tannins out. At Pesquier, the destemmed grapes are fermented in cement tanks that provide excellent temperature control and are then racked into large wooden tanks called "foudres". There's no new wood on these wines whatsoever. They also use a technique called "delestage", which removes the seeds from the fermenting process. Seed tannins are generally thought of as being harsher and greener than skin tannins, so this process will theoretically produce a softer, more approachable wine. Imported by VOS Selections, this tasty wine cost me $12.99. Cheers.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Wellington Vineyards - Sonoma County Value

On our recent trip to California, we spent a day in Sonoma and visited a small family winery that makes wonderful wines that sell for reasonable prices. Some are a little more expensive than my stated price range for everyday wine, but some others fit right in. They are well made, delicious and true to type. In addition, we got to spend some time with owner Peter Wellington and Manager Toby Germano. 8 acres of Wellington's 21 total go back as far as 117 years. The picture below shows some of the vines from a block that goes back to 1912. These old vine parcels are planted mostly with Grenache, Zinfandel, Alicante Bouschet, Syrah and Carignan. These varietals are mixed together in "field blends", the thinking back then being that if one or two didn't fair well in a particular vintage, then the others would pick up the slack.

Now however, Wellington is bottling the Syrah, Zinfandel and Grenache separately, as well as Marsanne, Rousanne, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Merlot and several bottlings of Cabernet Sauvignon. In the above photo, Janet gets a pruning lesson from owner Peter Wellington. The really old vines produce less fruit and thus more concentrated, more complex juice. These vineyards are cultivated in a sustainable manner, just a step shy of certified organic. Sulfur dust is occasionally used to control powdery mildew but insecticides and herbicides are never used.

3 of Wellington's everyday reds are readily available here on the east coast, the Cabernet Sauvignon from the Mohrhardt Ridge Vineyard, a Sonoma Merlot and a Sonoma Zinfandel. The Cab has all the good primary fruit you expect from a from a California wine with a good bit of that herbal Cabernet character. It's balanced and finishes long and smooth with soft tannins. It sells for $16.99 at my local store. The Zinfandel is also wonderful, giving forth all the peppery dark fruit flavors you expect from this uniquely American varietal in a nicely balanced format. Though coming in at 15.5% alcohol, there is enough acidity to keep this brawny wine fresh tasting. It sells here for $12.99. Last but not least, the Sonoma Merlot hits all the right notes. And despite the movie "Sideways" and it's famous Merlot line, this grape still outsells Pinot Noir. Wellington's Merlot has all the bright cherry fruit you expect from this varietal with notes of chocolate and brown spices. It's soft and smooth and has none of the "weedy" characteristics you sometimes get from a hot climate Merlot. It also sells for $12.99. Cheers.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Mommessin Macon Villages 2009 - Old Vines Chardonnay

I haven't posted for awhile as my wife and I were in California for a week. I'll have a report in the coming days on a small Sonoma winery whose wines are wonderful values. For now though I have this.

Mommessin is a very large Burgundy producer that has been around for over 100 years. And although they have expanded into the Rhone Valley, it is their Burgundies that they have always been known for. When it comes to wine, bigger is frequently not better but in the case of this tasty little Chardonnay, Mommessin has produced an everyday winner. This wine was produced from 40 year old vines grown in chalky soil in 3 different villages. Old vines produce less fruit so the juice from old vines grapes is usually more concentrated and flavorful. The chalky soil adds the mineral notes to the profile. This wine has beautiful apple, pear and floral elements in the nose. The orchard fruit flavors repeat in the mouth with a velvety texture, good acidity and a mineral spine that will let you pair this beauty with a wide range of dishes. Hand harvested and fermented at low temperatures, this great value finishes long with a nutty nuance that makes me wonder if this wine was left to age on it's lees for a bit. It cost me $10.99. Cheers.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Chateau Viranel St. Chinian Rose 2011

As I mentioned in the Vibrant Rioja Tasting post, I drink a lot of rose this time of year. The weather's getting warmer, the grill is getting hotter and the wines are getting cooler. St. Chinian is one of those little known AOC's of the Languedoc, the large, southernmost wine region of France. It sits at the base of the Massif Central, a collection of plateaus made up of hundreds of extinct volcanos. This geology contributes structure and flavor to the wines of the region. The Chateau Viranel rose is a blend comprised of 40% Syrah, 40% Grenache, and 20% Cinsault from 30-60 year old vines from limestone terraced vineyards. With a beautiful deep pink color, this beauty features pungent aromas of fresh strawberry, raspberry and floral elements with light red berry flavors, notes of honey and excellent acidity and balance. It's fruity yet light on it's feet. It finishes long with mineral notes. Imported by the Maximum Wine Company, this kind of wine can really compliment your weeknight dining. At $14.99, it's a bit higher in price than most roses, but it's a bit more special than most also. Cheers.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Fleur de California Pinot Noir "Carneros" 2009

When I'm moonlighting in my local store around the end of the year holidays, I notice a fair amount of people asking me for tasty, lighter styled red wines. Good Pinot Noir can certainly fit into that category and when you think about, at the price points I'm writing about, it definitely should. In fact, if your entry level Pinot Noir tastes "jammy", then the grapes that went into it were probably a bit too ripe at harvest time. This is a cool climate grape that ripens late and needs hang time. But when left too long on the vine in the warmth of California, the sugar rises and the acidity goes down. Then you have a flabby, sweet example that for my money, doesn't pair well with food.

That brings me to tonight's entry. Fleur de California is a winery that has been making delicate, balanced Pinot Noir for a long time, and the 2009 is a fine rendition. This is Carneros fruit, a cool micro-climate that straddles both Napa and Sonoma. Coming in at a very balanced 13.8% alcohol, this wine has all the bright cherry aromas you expect along with spicy cinnamon notes. It's got wonderful light bodied, light berry flavors, good balancing acidity, and a very smooth finish that has almost no drying tannins. At a cost of $14.99, it's a good value for a grape that is very hard to work with. It pairs well with the more meaty fishes, like salmon, tuna and the roasted monkfish in a saffron flavored tomato sauce that we enjoyed tonight. It's a nice package too. Cheers to one and all.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Vibrant Rioja NY Tasting - Thursday April 19

Thursday night found us in NY at a Spanish wine and tapas tasting put on by Vibrant Rioja, an arm of the DOC devoted to promoting the wines of the region. And although the food was good if not plentiful enough, the wines were outstanding. We started with a couple of roses. one from Cune which is a 100% Tempranillo cuvee, and one from Bodegas Carlos Serres called "Serres", a 50-50 blend of Tempranillo and Garnacha. The Cune was my favorite of the two, with bright, light red berry aromas of strawberry and raspberry along with complicating floral notes. I'm a huge rose fan, especially as we move into the warmer months and this is one bottling I'll be looking for. The Serres had a beautiful ruby color and was also tasty though not nearly as aromatic as the Cune. Both were from the 2011 vintage. The Cune should cost around $12.99 and the Serres around $9.99.

We also tasted a fantastic Rioja Crianza from a producer I was not familiar with. The 2008 from Dinastia Vivanco featured beautiful smoky cherry aromas with distinct earth notes, great medium bodied dark berry and plum flavors and excellent balance and length. This Crianza is fermented in French oak and aged for 16 months in French and American oak followed by another 6 months in bottle before being released. You should be able to find this bottling for around $12.99.

We also got to taste two of Mugas top bottlings, the Torre Muga and the Prado Enea. Muga is one of the oldest and best Rioja producers. I got the end of the last bottle of Prado Enea which sells for around $45 and didn't really get enough of it. The 2005 Torre Muga though was other wordly. This is a $65 dollar bottling comprised of 75% Tempranillo, with the rest of the blend made up of Mazuela and Graciano. Aged for 18 months in new French oak followed by a year in bottle prior to release, this wine has all you expect from a top bottling. Really complex aromas of plum and cassis, coffee, smoke, earth and brown spices. It's got very large scaled, full bodied flavors and a really long finish.

As I mentioned, the food was really lacking in quantity. There were supposed to be tapas like "Cappuccino of scallops, cauliflower and squid ash" and "Pears and red wine foam" but we didn't see any of these. We basically snacked on Spanish salamis, olives and almonds. We did spy a sever with a tray of the beef sliders toward the end of the tasting and we practically attacked her for her wares. Still, at $25 each for the cost of the tasting, this was a good value. At tastings like these, you have to taste the expensive wines first because everybody wants them and they run out early. Cheers.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Kermit Lynch Cotes du Rhone 2009

 Kermit Lynch is an importer who in no small way has helped bring about the world wide quality revolution in wine. He was one of the first importers to travel the back roads of France seeking small quantity, high quality producers doing things the natural way. Although now in his 60's, Mr. Lynch is still traveling those back roads. His 1988 book, "Adventures on the Wine Route: A Wine Buyer's Tour of France", was extremely influential. Nowadays, many of the small importers that I've written up have the same philosophy as Mr. Lynch - that small production wineries making wine in the most natural way possible will produce wines that express the soil that the grapes are grown in. Eric Asimov of the NY Times wrote a brief profile of Mr. Lynch in 2007.

The private label Cotes du Rhone that bears Mr. Lynch's name is a perfect example of everything that he stands for in an inexpensive everyday format. 2009 was a wonderful vintage in southern France and here beautiful aromas of black cherry and pepper are complicated by floral notes. It's got great concentration and balance with bold berry flavors and a distinct earthiness that keeps you coming back for more. This beauty finishes long and lightly tannic with good acidity and firm structure. At $12..99, this is a bottle I could easily pick to be my house wine. Cheers.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Ermita de Nieve Rueda 2010

    The Rueda DO of Spain is one of those out of the way places that not many folks know about but which produces wonderful white wines that won't blow your budget. It's a rocky region in northwestern Spain dominated by plateaus and adjacent to Ribera del Duero, where very hot summers are followed by cold winters. The winemakers here began experimenting with Verdejo in the 70's. It's a grape that makes very aromatic, crisp, clean whites that have a lot of similarities with Sauvignon Blanc, especially the New Zealand versions. This version, produced by Vinedos de Nieve and imported by C & P Wines, went perfectly with some stewed calamari with tomatoes, escarole and chili flakes that my lovely wife cooked up. Like Sauvignon Blanc, the aromas are dominated by grapefruit and lime zest along with a dusty minerality. In the mouth you get medium-bodied citrus and melon flavors and distinct grassy notes, another quality usually associated with Sauvignon Blanc. As we move toward warmer weather, it's also a great wine for sniffing and sipping on the deck while waiting for the grill to heat up....and it cost me a miserly $8.99. Cheers to one and all.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Olivares "Altos de la Hoya" 2009

   This really tasty everyday red is almost always a good bet, regardless of vintage. Yes, it's a hot climate red that's always very ripe, but there's always a bit more than fruit going on here. This wine is from the Jumilla DO in Southeastern Spain and it's produced mainly from very old vines Monastrell, which in France is called Mourvedre. These vines predate the late 19th century Phylloxera epidemic that devastated vines throughout Europe and led to grafting and replanting on American root stock, which proved resistant to the vine louse. In addition, these vines live at an altitude of 2700 ft., an altitude that helps offset the extreme summer heat in this part of Spain.

 You still get large-scaled aromas of chocolatey cherry and blueberry, with notes of roasted coffee and iron. With 2009 being such a good vintage, the mouth filling plum and dark berry flavors are balanced by good acidity. It finishes lightly tannic and long with spice and floral notes. Imported by The Rare Wine Company, this beauty sells for a mere $9.99. Drink it up!

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Mas de Gourgonnier Les Baux de Provence 2007

   The french word "terroir", when used in wine speak, refers to flavors that come from the soil. This elusive notion at times is a very clear reality, and when you find it, it makes your wine experience special. These flavors that are more than mere fruit are what give wine "a sense of place". In this case, the red blend from Mas de Gourgonnier is one of those wines that as soon as you smell it, your are transported to the rocky soils of Provence in the AOC known as Les Baux de Provence. Wine has been made here for at least 2,600 years and this interesting wine is comprised of Grenache, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Carignan. Lovers of the more new world fruity styles may not care for this wine, but for me, this is what great wine is all about, at any price point. Wild aromas of black pepper, licorice, leather and plummy fruit give you all the sensations of the French countryside...and I could sniff this wine all day. It's got wonderful, medium-bodied plum and black cherry flavors with a heavy dose of Provencal spiciness, all supported by good acidity and a mineral spine. It finishes long with perhaps a bit more tannin than you expect at this price point. Still, this is an excellent value that gives you plenty to talk about while you sip, and I'm sure the '09 and the'10 will be just as good when they hit the market. Imported by Michael Skurnick, this beauty cost me $12.99. Cheers.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Colosi Rosso 2009

   One of the first good, inexpensive wines I encountered on my wine journey was the Colosi Rosso. It delivered the goods at a very affordable price and it was a staple in my kitchen. Time and experience have taken me down many side roads on this journey but when I sampled the Colosi again recently, I was glad to see that things had not changed much. This bottling, which is made entirely from Nero d'Avola, the most important grape of Sicily, is almost a sure bet year in and year out. It's fermented entirely in stainless steel and sees a short 6 months in Slavonian oak. It's got attractive aromatics of plum, baked cherry and coffee, excellent medium-bodied dark cherry and over-ripe raspberry flavors and wonderful acidity which gives it lift. It finishes lightly tannic and long with some herbal notes. You can absolutely not do much better for $8.99 a bottle. Imported by one of my favorites, Vias, this is one bottle you should not hesitate to try with a tomato based pasta sauce or your favorite pizza. Cheers!

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Domaine Labbe Vin de Savoie "Abymes" 2010

   The Savoy wine region of France is one of those out of the way regions that barely gets a mention anywhere, which I guess is understandable since there are few of these wines to be found on retailer's shelves. It's a pity because if you like clean, crisp, light whites with good fruit and balance then you should seek these wines out. Nestled in the foothills of the alps on the border with Switzerland, the Savoy region is a popular summer vacation destination. The main grapes for the whites are Jacquere, Roussanne, and Altesse and this wine from Domaine Labbe is 100% Jacquere fermented entirely in stainless steel with wild yeasts only. Yields are kept low by de-budding in the spring. This beauty features green apple and pear aromas with a subtle stony element. In the mouth it's got light-bodied, crisp, orchard fruit flavors with excellent acidity giving it lift. These wines are great with shellfish or as an aperitif and they are kind of low in alcohol - usually around 11%. Imported by one of my favorites, Michael Skurnick, this great little wine cost me $10.99. Cheers.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Finca Nueva Rioja Blanco 2009

   I've become a fan of white Riojas, whose purity of fruit and low cost fit perfectly at my dinner table. Viura is the main grape here along with 30% Malvasia and this version was partially barrel fermented and aged for 3 months in French oak. That makes this wine a bit different from the usual entry level white Riojas. The barrel treatment gives this wine wonderful toast and spice notes to go along with the pear and floral aromas. In the mouth, it's ripe and round with excellent concentration and good acidity. Here the wood and the fruit are in perfect balance with apple and spiced pear flavors. It finishes long with toast notes and an attractive mineral spine. Imported by perhaps the top importer of Spanish wine, Tempranillo and the broker Jorge Ordonez, this beauty cost me $13.99 at my local shop. Cheers.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Montebuena Rioja 2009

  Here's a lovely entry level Rioja produced by a very large co-op called the Unión de Cosecheros of Labastida. Rioja can be a somewhat confusing area in that several varietals can be blended with the most important grape of the region, Tempranillo. Garnacha, Graciano, Mazuela and international varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot can all be used in the blend. As such, there are many different styles of Rioja, so at times consumers don't really know what they are getting. This bottling is a step down from the "Crianza" designation which demands 2 years of aging, six months  of which has to be in oak. There is probably no wood on this wine, at least none that I could detect. That's fine with me. This wonderful wine features bright, black cherry and plummy aromas with a hint of earth. It's boldly fruity in the mouth with excellent balance and acidity. It finishes very smooth and long with notes of coffee and spice and is an excellent value at the $9.99 it cost me at my local store. It's imported by another high quality small importer Kysela Pere et Fils. Cheers!