Wednesday, February 11, 2015


Every year, the Gambero Rosso organization awards the Tre Bicchieri (or, "three glasses,") to a select number of Italian wines from out of 45,000 sampled. Winners and runners-up are showcased during a world tour, which stopped off in New York early February.

Out of all the industry events I attend every year, the Tre Bicchieri seems to be one of the zaniest. Maybe it's the generally effusive nature of Italians themselves, but I think a lot has to do with the layout: wineries are organized by importer (not region, style, or even alphabetically,) so you're bopping from Franciacorta to Brunello to Amarone to Sicily and back again. Maybe it's also that there are a lot of friends and consumers allowed, so people are drinking more than spitting! Who knows. Just… zany.

As with many industry tastings, it's impossible to sample every single wine. IMPOSSIBLE! (For kicks, you can check out my madcap attempt to hit as many of the 250 wineries at the latest NY Wine Experience as I could.) At this year's Tre Bicchieri, there were 321 wines from 180 producers, so even if you were a speed demon and took only one measly minute to taste each wine, it would still take you almost five and a half hours to hit them all.

So I found a section of the room and just plowed in! ("3B" indicates Tre Bicchieri winners, others received slightly lower rankings.)

As luck would have it, I sampled the Red of the Year first. The 2007 Vietti Barolo Villero Riserva (3B) had great, elegant perfume, was "really delicious," with bright, spicy red cherries and brick dust. Silky tannins, good acidity, looooong length and a chewy finish. ~$300. The 2011 Vietti Barolo Castiglione also had an elegant nose, and was tasty—very floral and very earthy—and integrated. ~$45.

As a bubbly fan, I beelined for the 2009 Il Mosnel Franciacorta Extra Brut EBB (3B). It was very yummy/dirty/funky on the nose, with yellow apple, straw, and a good mousse—warm and rich and oomphy. ~$40. I also was intrigued by the 2013 Adami Valdobbiadene Rive di Farra di Solingo Brut Col Credas (3B). Pear jumped from the nose, with light lemon, minerals, and a bright mousse. Very steely, clean and metallic, cuts like a knife. ~$22.

I also love Amarone (remember when I wondered if it was the Sexiest Wine Ever?) so sampled the 2010 Tenuta Sant'Antonio Amarone della Valpolicella Campo dei Gigli (3B). It had tons of black fruit, was very tasty (though maybe not as velvety as I'd hoped,) with good fruit and cola notes. Still very young—I'm prepared to give it some time! ~$75.

The 2009 Morellino di Scansano Calestaia Reserva (3B) was intoxicating. Lots of floral and red fruit perfume, very tasty, bit of tea, spice, good fruit, flirty, well-structured yet approachable now. 100% Sangiovese from Tuscany. ~$42.

Another Tuscan group showed the 2010 Colle Massari Montecucco Sangiovese Lombrone Riserva (3B) with an attractive nose, delicious and complex fruit, spice, and yet easy-drinking. ~$45. I also enjoyed their "Super Tuscan" blend of Bordeaux-grapes and Sangiovese, the 2011 Colle Massari Bolgheri Rosso Superiore Grattamacco—very spicy, robust, lavender florals, tasty, earthy, good tannic structure. ~$75. And the 2009 Colle Massari Brunello di Montalcino Poggio di Sotto again had a great nose, with violet florals, caramel, herbs, chocolate... just lovely. I'll definitely be looking for more from this producer! ~$240.

Some Chiantis from Tuscany tasted next included the 2011 Barone Ricasoli Chianti Classico Colledilà Gran Selezione (3B) with a most amazing nose! Very unusual: brick dust, crushed lavender, red plum, red currant. Lots of structure and intriguing on the palate, but the nose was the best. ~$55. And the 2011 Brancaia Chianti Classico Riserva (3B) showed ripe red fruit on the nose, with red and black fruits (supported by 20% Merlot in the blend, no doubt,) with herbs and a pizza-spice-y finish. Tasty. ~$30.

At this point in my tasting, I met up with some friends: Mr. Some Damn Good Wine, Mr. Tolerant Taster, and Mr. NJ Wine and Beer (not every Wineau has a catchy name, but I guess the folks who do tend to gravitate to each other. [You can follow all these wacky Wineaux on the twitter, lose the "Mr."s and look them up!]) Our newly-formed Posse bounced around to some more tables, increasing the zany quotient by a factor of ten.

Hopscotching to Friuli Venezia Giulia, I tried the 2013 Ronco dei Tassi Collio Malvasia (3B)—abundant with minerals, pear, peach and straw, light and herby with a nice grip. ~$18. I really do enjoy Collio wines and was intrigued by the 2011 Ronco dei Tassi Fosarin, a white blend, which was very meaty and pungent, feel of warm hay, and viscous. ~$20. I went nutso over the 2008 Cantina Valpolicalla Negrar Amarone della Valpolicella Classico San Rocco Domini Veneti (3B). Graphite, smoky flintiness, violets! Herby perfume, intoxicating nose. Spicy, rich—THIS is sexy. Warm and ripe with subtle tannins, from a single vineyard. More, please! ~$40.

Back up to Lombardy and Franciacorta again, for the amazing 2007 Ferghettina Franciacorta Pas Dosé 33 Riserva (3B). Soapstone, lemon curd, honey and yellow apple on the nose, very crisp and clean, minerally, bit yeasty (72 months on the lees, so!) Very nice, very tasty. ~$48

Alas, when we made it to Tenuta Sette Ponti (the Winery of the Year,) they were out of their famous 2011 Oreno. Sad face. But the 2012 Tenuta Sette Ponti Saia Feudo Maccari (3B) was dense and spicy, with cocoa and earth, and supple tannins, (~$30) and the 2012 Tenuta Sette Ponti Crognolo was earthy, herby and dense with tasty tart fruit. ~$25.

We all enjoyed the 2010 Velenosi Rosso Piceno Superiore Roggio del Filare (3B): macerated berry nose, cherry cola, robust and fruity, VERY structured, super tannic, but very, very tasty. ~$50.

Back to white, back to Collio for the 2013 Ronco Blanchis Collio (3B)—spicy!! A true multitude of spices. Warm, round melon and... spice galore. ~$20. Although familiar with Gavi wines, I hadn't yet tried the 2012 Villa Sparina Gavi del Comune di Gavi Monterotondo (3B) which had delicious melon, litchi, great round fruit, and good minerality. Yum. ~$50.

And far be it from me to leave any Franciacorta unturned, so I sipped on the 2004 Castello Bonomi Franciacorta Extra Brut Lucrezia Etichetta Nera (3B) which was quite perfumey, with florals and sugar cookie (~$150,) and the 2007 Castello Bonomi Franciacorta Extra Brut Lucrezia CruPerdu, with a very soapy nose, great ripe fruit, pear, yeasty, tasty. ~$135.

Mr. NJ Wine and Beer and I accidentally left the other two in the dust zooming to the other side of the room to find an old friend, the 2010 Allegrini Amarone della Valpolicella Classico (3B). With a grappa-ish, herby nose, and "sweet" fruit, it presented a little too baked for me, alas. Maybe next time! ~$42

I had to fly to a meeting with another Wineau, so bid the remainder of my Posse adieu (or, ciao,) and headed out into the cold with a little Italian zaniness in my step. While I felt like I may have missed some real gems in all the chaos, I was thrilled at the numerous wines I did discover. With the incredible range of wines coming out of all corners of Italy, there truly is something for everyone—so grab three glasses of your own, split a bottle with some friends, and dance the zany night away.


Monday, February 2, 2015

2012 BORDEAUX: A "Run-DMC" Vintage

Last year I wrote that the 2011 Bordeaux offerings provided some gems if you were willing to take the time to unearth them. Well, Wineaux, prepare yourselves for some serious mining in regard to the 2012s.

Many high-end, famous critics (who get to attend the En Primeur tastings in Bordeaux) seem to agree that 2012 had quality issues much like 2011, and neither vintage was helped by the fact that 2009 and 2010 were stunning vintages all around. In 2012, ripening of the Cabernet Sauvignon was problematic, and Sauternes lost most of its crop to bad weather just before harvest. The dry whites fared well and the Merlot-based reds were salvageable, but 2012 will not be a vintage to remember, or to save.

However, this means something generally not a rule in Bordeaux: the 2012s will be far more accessible early on than those from the opulent vintages.

On a very snowy winter's day, I attended the Union des Grand Crus de Bordeaux tasting, which showcases 95 respected producers from all over Bordeaux. Generally I was not overly impressed with the offerings, although I managed to find one or two Châteaux from the different regions whose wine stood out amongst its peers. (Something to bear in mind: given the unpredictability of the vintage, many of these wines that are showing too tart or one-dimensional may almost certainly evolve in the bottle, and relatively soon, so while some show obvious potential now, others may yet surprise us.)

Ranged from acidic and bright Sauv Blanc-driven wines,
to rounder, richer offerings buoyed by more Sèmillon in the blend.

2012 Ch. de Chantegrive Blanc: Amazing nose, ripe pear and peach, quince, SweeTarts. Very "sweetly tart" in the mouth, excellently balanced acid, but the word for sure is TART. Liked it though. TOP White. ~$22

2012 Ch. Bouscaut Blanc: 60% Sauvignon Blanc, 40% Semillon; really get the Semillon on the nose, and in the body. Rich and viscous, nice spice on the finish, warm and luxe, very well-balanced. ~$35

2012 Ch. Carbonnieux Blanc: Subtle nose of florals, grass and herbs. Florals, tart lime zest, tasty, but doesn't stand out. ~$45

2012 Domaine de Chevalier Blanc: Elegant tart tropical fruit nose, very vegetative and green, but grippy. ~$100

2012 Ch. de Fieuzal Blanc: Light tropical fruit, nice depth of flavor—yellow apple and minerals. Pretty tasty, but simple. ~$65

2012 Ch. Larrivet Haut-Brion Blanc: FAVE White: Taffy and melon nose. Nice spice and herbs in mouth to balance flavors. Rich and round. Oomphy. ~$55

2012 Ch. Latour-Martillac: 70% SB, 30% Sem, rich and round, very early and grassy, straw, tart citrus on finish. Nice. ~$35

2012 Ch. Malartic-Lagravière: Clean, steely lime. One note. Bit watery. ~$60

You will see the St.-Éms were very categorized by tart red fruits,
in some cases, so tart as to be off-putting.

2012 Ch. Beau-Séjour Bécot: Spices on the nose! Macerated berries, very spicy in the mouth, nice integration, can drink now, though firm tannins are present. FAVE St.-Em. ~$52

2012 Ch. Canon-la-Gaffelière: florals, red fruits, herby, tart. ~$65

2012 Clos Fourtet: Dark berries, very tart, a little disjointed at present but very good potential. ~$75

2012 Ch. La Gaffelière: Very interesting nose, spicy, bright red fruits, some jam, pomegranate. Very tart. ~$53

2012 Ch. Troplong-Mondot: Very perfumey nose of rose petals, but also quite tart. ~$85

In Pomerol, the tartness of the red fruits was tempered a bit
by earthiness and similar flavors.

2012 Ch. Beauregard: Earth, spice box, black fruits. Tasty, complex, smoked meat on the finish. FAVE Pom. ~$43

2012 Ch. Le Bon Pasteur: Smoke, dark fruits, a bit of tart red fruit on the finish. ~$NA [60-70]

2012 Ch. Clinet: Woodsy, very tart but bright red fruit. ~$75

Many wines from the large Médoc appellation seemed to have
a good "multi-faceted-ness" and are outrageously EXCELLENT values. 

2012 Ch. Chasse-Spleen [Moulis-en-Médoc]: Lovely, complex nose. Luxe fruit, Asian spice, soy sauce umami, bit tight now but very good potential. TOP Méd. ~$30

2012 Ch. Poujeaux [Moulis-en-Médoc]: Very spice box-y! Cedar, red berries, tasty, bright red and purple fruit. TOP Méd. ~$28

2012 Ch. Cantemerle [Haut-Médoc]: Earthy, dusty, spicy cedar nose. Very bright and light, bit of licorice, rose florals. Hm! ~$30

2012 Ch. Citran [Haut-Médoc]: Love the nose! Ripe and round, red and purple. Very purple fruit, blueberries. This one's different and very interesting. TOP Méd. ~$20

2012 Ch. La Tour de By [Médoc]: Light, bit of spice. Somewhat thin, but pleasant. Very fruity and earthy elements. ~$22

Mostly positive things to say about Margaux,
also well-rounded, also great values for the appellation.

Manager Dominique Befve
showing off his delicious
Ch. Lascombes.
2012 Ch. Brane-Cantenac: Very earthy, cigar box, nice red fruits, round expression. Yum! TOP Marg. ~$50

2012 Ch. Cantenac Brown: Mesquite, cranberry, grippy tannins, but good blend of fruit and structure. ~$45

2012 Ch. Giscours: Warm, spicy, nice red fruit, not terribly impressive, though. ~$48

2012 Ch. Kirwan: Stunning nose, lush red fruit and perfume. Tangy red fruit, nice spice, cranberry, mocha. FAVE Marg. ~$40

2012 Ch. Lascombes: Very purple nose, very nice, violets. Very very tasty, very very purple! Cocoa powder, iodine. TOP Marg.  ~$65

More earthy, vegitative notes found here.

2012 Ch. Gloria: Nice, interesting umami nose. Not that much fruit expression—chalky tannins kind of rob it of fruit. ~$36

2012 Ch. Léoville-Barton: Herbs and floral nose, nice fruit. Lots of green pepper in mouth. Solid, but not my style. ~$70

2012 Ch. Talbot: Really merde-y nose, but purfumey too! ("Perfume-y merde," that's a new one.) Violets, very compact, complex, yummy. FAVE ST-Ju. ~$50

Pauillac, like Margaux, seemed to hold a lot of potential.

2012 Ch. Haut-Bages Libéral: Love the nose, overripe blackberries, funky cheese thing. Very tasty, velvety, dense and dark, nice spice. TOP Pau. ~$40

2012 Ch. Lynch-Bages: Very herby, very cedar, mortadella, but woah—TOO young!! Very black tea tannic. (I was tasting with my friend, the Some Damn Good Wine guy, who said, "Uh…hold.") ~$100

2012 Ch. Pichon Baron: Not overpowering, but a complex nose: blueberry jam, whiff o' wood smoke. Elegant, fresh herbs, good red fruit, rose petals. FAVE Pau. ~$105

2012 Ch. Pichon Longueville Comtesse de Lalande: Quite earty, cocoa, florals, red tangy fruit on finish. ~$100

(With the storm outside a-ragin', I wrapped up my tasting by beelining to the dessert wines. Alas, that meant I missed the three St.-Estèphe offerings, not to mention so many wonderful Châteaux from the regions I did sample. Oh well, no time to cry over missed wine!)

Sauterns and Barsac ranged from too light to too cloying,
but still had some personalities shining through.

2012 Ch. Coutet: Strong note of tangerine peel, very pleasant, but one-note. ~$70

2012 Ch. Doisy Daëne: Ripe melon, ripe pear. Really pear-y, actually. Very pleasant; nice finish and not too cloying. TOP Saut. ~$40

2012 Clos Haut-Peyraguey: Honey, apricot, honeysuckle. Very tasty, round and rich, but not enough acidity to balance = too syrupy. ~$55

2012 Ch. La Tour Blanche: Light florals, lemon verbena, good acid, lemon curd on the finish. Yum. Good balance. Very nice. FAVE Saut. ~$55

So there you have it, Wineaux. You major Bordeaux-lovers may just have to write off 2012—alas, the early reports on 2013 are also spotty—but while we wait for the "next big vintage," talk to your merchants and somms, and I bet you can find a decent bottle or two to enjoy in the meantime. To look on the bright side, unearthing the good 2012s will give you accessible Bordeaux at a relatively affordable price… it's still one of the world's best wine regions for a reason.


Monday, January 19, 2015

Featuring WILLIAMS SELYEM 2006 Pinot Noirs

Sometimes a Minx gets very, very lucky, like when a horizontal of the cult favorite Williams Selyem falls into her lap.

(A "horizontal" is a collection of wines from the same producer and the same vintage but with different designations. The more typical "vertical" tasting moves through the same producer but different vintages. Well, neither are really that typical in the grand scheme of things, but an opportunity to taste a horizontal is pretty darn rare!)

I quickly lured a bunch of folks over to taste with me, all intrigued by the concept; with all other things being equal—winemaker, grape variety, vintage—would it be possible to taste the difference in terroir?

The word "terroir" can be a little tricky for Wineaux to explain. To some it merely means the land where the wine is grown, but I prefer a larger scope to define it; the soil, the climate conditions, elevation, aspect (angle of the slope, if any, the vines are planted on,) the history of the area, the winemaker's influence, and so on.

Williams Selyem, located in Sonoma, CA, sources fruit from three different Estate-owned vineyards, and eighteen different grower vineyards, and I had my little hands on seven of their bottlings from 2006. While Sonoma may not be quite as famous as its next-door-neighbor Napa, savvy Wineaux know there is a lot of brilliance to be found there, especially when one is looking for terroir variation.

(Someone once told me that if Napa was like the relatively small, prestigious region of Bordeaux, then Sonoma was akin to the entire rest of France in terms of its diverse terroir.)

Our first flight were the three wines of the group from blended vineyards. We started with the 2006 Williams Selyem Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast, which was bright and flirty with red cherry and pomegranate notes. With fruit from Drake, Coastlands, Hirsch, and Peay vineyards, it was pleasant, but lacked the complexity and personality of those that followed. ($42) [All prices are winemaker's stated release prices.]

The 2006 Williams Selyem Pinot Noir Russian River Valley immediately illustrated the difference in terroir expression, with its earthier notes of bacon, game, and forest floor, with ripe plums and notable acidity. Fruit from Drake, Allen, Flax, Rochioli, Bucher, and Litton vineyards. Delish! ($45)

The group's hands-down favorite from Flight #1 was the 2006 Williams Selyem Pinot Noir Westside Road Neighbors. A blend from Allen, Baciagalupi, Bucher, Flax, and Rochioli, it was lip-smackingly tasty, with tons of florals, especially rose petals, and big blueberry flavor. Dense, chewy, complex, and just So. Darn. Tasty. ($65)

Some of you detail-oriented Wineaux may be thinking, "Sounds good so far, but it's 2015—I'd think 2006s would be a little long in the tooth, right?" While it's true that these wines have almost certainly mellowed with their age, the quality of the fruit and the pedigree of the winery have them showing beautifully. I wouldn't hold on to Pinots from this era for much longer, but given the unanimous enthusiasm of the tasters, they're still going strong.

On to Flight #2—all single-vineyard selections.

I really enjoyed the 2006 Williams Selyem Pinot Noir Bucher Vineyard, with its combo of silky, sexy licorice, and spicy vanilla, caramel, and earth. As I was answering questions, I realized I had slurped mine all up without even noticing! So scrumptious. A perfect example, I think, of how the wine's elements have integrated stunningly over time in the bottle. ($54)

The 2006 Williams Selyem Pinot Noir Coastlands Vineyard was intriguing for its feminine floral perfume, notes of lilac, truffle, and bright ripe cherry. One taster piped up, "I have to say, I was not a big fan of Pinots until right now—the variety, richness, and complexity of these wines is amazing. No idea it could be like this." ($69)

Part of the difficulty in combating preconceptions like that is a wide disparity of Pinots on the market and other factors that keep them out of reach of most consumers. Old world gems from Burgundy can be outrageously expensive, and well-regarded PNs from the US often command high prices, while availability is low. The "Sideways" movie's backlash doesn't help—sales of Merlot plummeted while lower-quality Pinot rushed into the market to capitalize on the influence one character's opinion had on a slew of wine drinkers.

Not that I'm trying to turn you all into cult-worshipers, but this tasting certainly confirms that pedigree and talent are worth seeking out and paying for!

Next up was the group's favorite of the whole evening: the 2006 Williams Selyem Pinot Noir Flax Vineyard. An intoxicating, amazing nose of purple fruit and florals, kirsch, and sasparilla, it also had flavors of bourbon and blackberry on its long finish. Chewy. So tasty. Just—wow. ($54)

Finally, the 2006 Williams Selyem Pinot Noir Riochioli Riverblock Vineyard. Alas, this wine seemed off—not corked or cooked, per se—just muted and dumb in the bottle. I do hope to try another one of this vineyard designation, as I'm sure ours was a fluke of bottle variation, and the winemaker's notes make it sound delicious and voluptuous. While we all agreed this bottle wasn't up to par, it did exhibit notes of cocoa, licorice, and tart red fruit, and was totally finished off by the end of the night! ($75)

So the answer to "can you taste 'terroir?'" was a resounding "YES!!!!" from all of our sippers. Everyone in the group, from relative neophyte to wine professional, was knocked out by the range of different expressions. Many were shocked to discover the depth of flavor found in most of the wines, and now might have an idea why Pinot inspires such fervor in its fans. I for one couldn't have been more pleased to have had this opportunity, and will certainly seek out other horizontal tastings as often as possible!


Tuesday, December 23, 2014

(Make Me Happy, Make Me Feel Fine!)

A New Year's Eve celebration is nothing—nothing!—without a glass (or six, I'm not driving,) of Champagne. You Wineaux probably know by now that the Minx is a sucker for nearly any vino with bubbles in it, no matter what the date. Or time of day, for that matter.

A few years ago I wrote an awesome article about the joys of bubbly. (You can read it here.) It has information on the basic styles of sparkling wines and some suggestions at different price points, but there is always so much more to uncover.

Sure, it's nice if a friend brings you a Warhol-inspired bottle of 2002 Dom Perignon (thanks, Devin!) but maybe you're saving some dough for a great ski trip in January, or you merely want to be creative and drink outside of the box this year.

To that end, here are some interesting bubbly alternatives for ringing in the New. Enjoy!

Bullet point #1: PET NAT in the house!

Lately the Minx has noticed a veritable explosion of offerings in the "Pet Nat" style, which is shorthand for "Pétillant Naturel," a type of sparkling wine made in an old, agrarian style. It involves wild yeast and natural fermentation; a spontaneous, unpredictable experience that translates into an unusual glass of lightly sparkling wine. Maybe not for everyone—however, if you like the weird and wonderful (and you all know I do!) these wines can be fascinating.

NV Salinia Twenty-five Reasons, Russian River Valley, CA. This was one of the first pet nat wines that made me sit up and go, "huh!" It's a little schitzo, as the typical Sauvignon Blanc tropical fruit on the nose gives way to a savory green olive experience in the mouth. I recognized it would possibly divide a tasting group, but it's one of those wines that intrigued me so much, I kept sniffing and sipping, sniffing and sipping, until I had to hold out my glass and say, "fill 'er up!" ~$22.

2012 Texier Rouletabulle, Rhône. Made from the Chasselas grape, more commonly found in Switzerland (...which is another way of saying it's really not common AT ALL.) Overripe tropical fruit and green plum on the nose, slightly bitter finish, but stimulates those salivary glands fo' shizzle; an excellent aperitif. Long, tart finish. ~$22.

2013 La Garagista CdF, Vermont. Yes, Vermont! From rising star winemaker Deirdre Heekin, this stunning rosé pet nat has overripe "sweet" melon and candied orange peel on the nose, with a lightness in the mouth, super dry finish of tart strawberries, very interesting and compelling, salinity on the finish. ~$35. (Alas, as of this writing, it seems the rosé has sold out, but there is still availability of the white version, which is quite tasty as well, with a lovely ginger element and also a savory finish. ~$35.)

Bullet point #2: Parlez-vous CRÈMANT?

Basically, a crèmant is a sparkling wine from France NOT from Champagne, and it is named for the region it comes from: Crèmant de Loire, Crèmant d'Alsace, etc. Given the historical quality of France's winemaking regions, this is a great place to find excellent bubbly at a fraction of the price of Champagne.

If you have read my Top 20 Under 20 of 2014 post (and if not, why haven't you?!?!) you will recognize the NV Louis Bouillot Rosé, a Crèmant de Bourgogne (Burgundy). It is light pink, with tasty strawberry and honey crisp apple notes. Dry, with a good zingy mousse, nice balance and long finish, great to pair with pork or holiday turkey. I wrote, "More, please," and did indeed end up buying a case of this! ~$16.

NV Domaine de Montbourgeau Crèmant de Jura. I love Jura wines—especially the funky whites with notes of sherry's flor—but don't worry, this is not at all funky, it's lovely. Pale gold. Lazy bubbles. Soapy nose, dense toasty yeasty fresh herbs (like toasted slices of baguette drizzled with olive oil and fresh dill and thyme!) in the mouth. Bright mousse and Meyer lemon on the long, loooooong finish. Delish. ~$25

Bullet point #3: go TOPSY-TURVY

You could also totally mess with convention and pop a sparkling RED wine. Ahhhh! Crazy.

Many Wineaux are divided on red bubbly. Some feel Australian sparkling Shiraz especially reminds them of the old sicky-sweet Cold Duck wines of yore. But you can't find a fun-time party gal of a bubbly more unusual and cheeky than a sparkling red, so try one, and decide for yourself!

For a sparkling Shiraz, try the NV The Chook, Australia. It has a rich purpley-ruby color, with a nose of blackberry jam, smoke, and spice. In the mouth, it's pleasantly effervescent, with macerated berry salad, dark chocolate, violets, a hint of tannins and just a twinge of pleasant sweetness. ~$20.

(One of my fave Aussie wineries, Mollydooker, also makes a sparkling Shiraz called Goosebumps, but it doesn't have a lot of availability in the States, and I have yet to try it. If you can find one, please invite me over! [~$50])

Other red bubblies come from Italy, like Lambrusco and Brachetto. While often vinified slightly sweet (like the very good NV Banfi Rosa Regale,) there are others made in a dry style, like the NV Balugani Grasparossa di Castelvetro Lambrusco. A violet/ruby color, light fizz, nose of blueberry, fresh blackberry, green stemminess. Lots of fruit and wild rose florals, very dry finish. Charming, a little flirty, with a bit of pepper and spice on the finish. ~$20

Going outside of the box myself, I found something a bit unusual with the NV Čotar Črna Penina Frizzante from Slovenia. Arguably, the fact it's a Slovenian red bubbly from the Teran grape is unusual enough, but it was a dark purpley-garnet, with a nose of spice, smoke, rose petals and black berries. On the palate, it's lighter than you'd think, with herbs, underripe berries, a nice, light fizz and a bit of woodiness on the finish. Different and interesting. ~$30

So whether you go for a traditional Champagne, Prosecco, Cava, a sparkling wine from California, or any one of the alternatives above, the Minx would like to wish you a New Year's Eve full of fun and friendship. It is the best time of the year to toast loved ones and to hope for a year ahead full of joy, success, and good wine. My best wishes to you all for a wonderful 2015! Cheers.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

TOP 20 UNDER $20 of 2014!!!

It's that time of the year—the mercury drops, the holiday season approaches, the days get shorter… and the Wine Minx posts her "Top 20 Under $20"! Like leaves falling from the tree and shiny-nosed Rudolph, my most popular blog is BACK.

Don't look so forlorn, Andrew—you're buying us wine!
You may recall that last year was a tricky one; I didn't even find 15 wines for the list, alas. But in 2014 I had a surfeit of lovely options to choose from… so there are actually 21 this year. Why not? My blog, my rules!

Yes, there are three rosé sparklers—because they are just THAT DARN GOOD. Chile, Portugal, and Spain had a solid showing (no surprise, they're great for value wines,) but we were nicely spread out all over the world with ten different countries represented, including Greece, Austria, and Morocco. Yep, Morocco. 

I would gladly drink a case of each of these, but will note some particular standouts with a "*" because they deserve it. Okay, enough o' my yakking, let's get to it!


2010 Luis Pato Vinho Espumante, Portugal: was served this at Oxheart restaurant when I was in Houston. Amazeballs! Tart and tangy but unusual and herby too. Let it warm up and open up. Delicious. Made from the Baga grape. ~$13.

*NV C. Greffe Vouvray Brut Excellence: nose of taffy and white flowers, orange peel, white chocolate. Pleasing mousse, rich in flavor, a bit of brioche to ground it, straddles the line beautifully between complex and easy-drinking. Well, well, well, what a find. ~$19.

NV Dürnberg Brut Sparkling Rosé, Austria: made from Zweigelt, with loads of fruit! Well-balanced, herby, excellent aperitif, good body and character. Supremely quaffable. An absolute party fave. ~$15.

*NV Louis Bouillot Rosé, Cremant de Bourgogne: light pink. Tasty strawberry and honeycrisp apple. Dry, good zingy mousse, nice balance, long finish, great to pair with pork or T'giving turkey! More, please. ~$16.


*2013 Caliterra Tributo, Leyda, Chile: 100% Sauvignon Blanc. Pale straw gold color, fresh nose of kiwi and gooseberry, lemon, papaya, lime curd. Well-balanced fruit and acidity, grass and fresh herbs on the (long) finish, minerality, kelp/seaweed, quaffable but complex. ~$15

*2012 Feudo Arancio Grillo, Sicily: I drank Grillo as I recently wandered all over Sicily, falling in love with its good weight and body, and lemony, herby character, with intriguing spicy white florals. Feudo Arancio makes a great one, yummmm. And only ~$9!

2012 Saracina Unoaked Chardonnay, Mendocino, CA- white peach, pear, lemon zest, fresh tarragon on nose. Big body, goosed by 4% Viognier in blend, not too high alcohol. In the mouth, tasty fruit and yellow flowers, solid acidity, and minerality on the finish. ~$17.

2012 Ouled Thaleb: white blend (60% Faranah, 40% Clairette) from… Morocco! Pale straw color, melon, grassy, light, spicy finish, lite acid, v. quaffable, minerality, pear, yellow flowers, orange blossom, yellow apple, melon, bit of mint, medium weight, pleasant finish. ~$14.

*2013 Esporão Monte Velho, Portugal: 40% Antão Vaz, 40% Roupeiro, 20% Perrum. Don't let those unusual grapes throw you. Very floral nose, a bit spicy, with white peach and melon. Über rich in the mouth! Luxe. Long finish, just enough acid to balance. Holy cow, love this. A ~$10 STUNNER.

2011 Astica Torrontes, Cuyo, Argentina: pale silvery-gold. Straw and white flowers, rich in the mouth, lemon zest, excellent acidity, long finish. Your next "house white," at only ~$6. 

2013 Quinta da Aveleda, Portugal: 80% Loureiro and 20% Alvarinho— maybe the best Vinho Verde I've ever tried. Not the usual "light and forgettable," it was super-tasty, with green melon, grapefruit, a good body, and steely minerality. Delicioso! ~$9.


2012 Domaine de la Sanguliere Rosé Juliette, Provence. Tried this when I was looking for rosés to suggest for a friend's restaurant. Extremely quaffable, loads of berry fruit but also herbs and minerality. Can't stop sipping this one! Don't think about it only for summer, either. ~$13.


*2011 Cuatro Pasos, Bierzo Spain: Mencía is the grape. A crowd-pleaser for sure. Spicy macerated berries, pepper, smoke, lots of herbs. Complex, with a well-balanced, lengthy finish. On second thought, forget the crowd, drink it all yourself. ~$10.

*2011 Saint George Aghiorghitiko, Nemea, Greece. Tons of floral perfume, rose, violets, bright and tangy in the mouth, cranberry, pomegranate, bit of earth and herbs. Medium-body wine in a light-body suit. Excellent. ~$14.

2013 Campo de Borja Los Dos, Spain: Grenache/Syrah blend. Medium ruby color, bright cherry nose! Bramble fruit. Bit of mushroom and herbs. Spicy in the mouth, with crunchy fruit that turns plush on the long, bright finish. Cheerful and a little sexy. A steal at ~$8.

*2012 MontGras Antu by Ninquén Syrah: Colchagua, Chile. Medium ruby, interesting nose of lilac, violets, pepper, blackberries, clove, licorice, and a bit of oak. Light but lingering spice. Less-ripe fruit on palate, but rich, long, integrated finish. Herbs, touch of vanilla and chocolate, juicy and lovely. (I drew a heart.) ~$12

2012 Underraga Pinot Noir, Maipo, Chile: ripe bramble fruit, blueberry, spice, clove, sweet pork sausage kinda thing, smoke, sage.V bright acidity, needs to be paired with food, yum! ~$11.

2013 Luzon Verde Monastrell - black fruits, plum, heady aromatics, bit of chocolate, not overly heavy-duty. Good acidity, tasty. A very solid offering at ~$10.

*2012 Sobon Hillside Zinfandel, CA: smoky, peppery, black cherry, blackberry nose. Punch of bright berry fruit and ripe plum, lip-smakingly tasty, simmers into long, balanced, soft finish. Super ripe fruit but nice balancing pepper and minerality. ~$12.

2012 Avignonesi Rosso di Montepulciano: cedar, cherry liqueur, bit of licorice, sage. Tasty and well supported by balanced tannins, herby and woody notes emerge over the finish.  Great representation of Italian flair for only ~$18.


NV Taylor's First Estate Reserve Port, Portugal: the youngest of their offerings and arguably the most approachable. Intense fresh fruit, luscious, quite "wine-like," as its higher alcohol is tempered by the brightness of the fruit. Wow. ~$17.

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Well, Wineaux, there you have it. 21 stunning wines under $20. Plenty of variety to get you through Turkey Day, the holidays, AND the New Year, without breaking the bank! Try some, let me know what you liked, or if you have your own 2014 <$20 faves.


Monday, October 27, 2014

(It Was a Sprint, Not a Marathon.)

Wineaux: if you had the crème de la crème of the best wines in the world laid out in front of you, and a mere two and a half hours to taste as many as you could, you might look like a refugee from "Supermarket Shopper" (or whatever that crazy program was) too. I had a map—notated in two highlighters AND a pen—and a plan of action, and woe to the lackadaisical taster who got in my way.

This was at a recent Grand Tasting evening at the Wine Spectator's New York Wine Experience. In the past, I'd been able to attend the whole weekend's worth of programming; the amazing seminars, the luncheons, and BOTH evenings of Grand Tastings with an extra hour each… and I still never made it to every wine.

This time, I could only be there for a fraction of the enormous event—I mean, they have over 250 Wine Spectator Award-winning wineries pouring at this session alone—but I had on comfy shoes and a lot of determination.

For better or worse, here's what I got to sample, with the quickest-notes-in-the-world—starred entries were particular standouts:

(And apologies to the winemakers who I was abrupt with, the fellow tasters I elbowed through, and the friends I ran into with a "Hi, no time to talk, let's touch base soon, make sure you go to XYZ's table, byeeeee.")


NV Bollinger Brut Champagne Special Cuvée: soapstone, bright mousse, ripe lemon, very nice! ~$50

NV Henriot Brut Rosé Champagne: rich fruit, compact and complex—just gorgeous. ~$55

NV Krug Brut Champagne Grand Cuvee: (full disclosure—this was my first stop, I beelined to the Krug table!) warm and toasty, rich, always lovely. ~$135

* 2006 Perrier-Jouët Champagne Belle Epoque: brioche, florals, stunning, rich, toasty mousse, nutty. ~$135


2012 Far Niente Chardonnay: ripe yellow flowers, bruised apple nose. Very dense, lovely in mouth, taffy, melon, spicy finish. Nice! ~$45

2007 Hugel Gewürztraminer Vendage Tardive: floral, litchi, rich, very subtle. Doesn't seem as sweet as the 100g/l residual sugar would imply. ~$50

* 2011 Kistler Chardonnay Trenton Roadhouse: poured out of magnum. Spot-on nose, baking spices, rich fruit, super tasty, with light and lifting acidity. ~$140 (bt)

2011 Kongsgaard Chardonnay: subtle floral nose, compact and savory on finish, yellow apple, great balance. ~$110

* 2011 J.J. Prüm Riesling Graacher Himmelreich Spätlese: beautiful florals, o my gosh, amazing, creamsicle (!), orangey, spicy and interesting. ~$30

2007 Trimbach Riesling Frédéric Emile: petrol, white flowers, pear, white peach, steely, clean, minerally. Always a fave. ~$63


2009 Ch. Angélus: dusty cocoa powder, really dense and rich, licorice, earth, graphite, yum. ~$350

2009 Ch. Cheval Blanc: soft red fruits, tangy and dense, bright, elegant, smoke. ~$1500

* 2007 Ch. Haut Brion: VERRRRY earthy, licorice, violet, elegant though SO dense, blackberry, cassis, black cherry, bit of leather and tobacco. ~$475

* 2001 Ch. Lafite Rothschild: tarragon, SAGE—heady nose, tangy, drinking very well, purple fruits and flowers (I'm really enjoying the '01s I've had of late—maybe not a standout vintage for Bordeaux, but they're pretty tasty!) ~$750

2010 Ch. Lynch-Bages: spice, blueberry pie, still obviously very young and dense but actually nice balance. Intense black fruits, excellent potential. ~$180

2007 Ch. La Mission Haut-Brion: earthy, bit savory, dried herbs, approachable now, not too big, florals lighten it up. ~$380

2008 Ch. Mouton Rothschild: loads of terroir, very smooth, elegant, cassis, balanced. ~$600

2007 Ch. Palmer: cedar closet, spice and earth, luxurious in the mouth, subtle but present structure. ~$240

2004 Ch. Pichon-Longueville, Ctsse. de Lalande: Asian spice, earth, red jammy fruit, kind of soft finish but nice structure, drinking very well now. ~$140


* 2006 Bouchard Clos Vougeot: liquid earth, potpourri perfume, plush fruit in mouth. Amazing. ~$160

2011 Drouhin Chambolle-Musigny: light macerated berries, earthiness on finish. ~$65

2012 Faiveley Gevrey-Chambertin Les Cazetiers: love the earthy terroir, round and rich fruit, not knockout finish but warm and long. ~$125

2010 Jadot Nuits-St.-Georges Les Boudots: lots of floral perfume, intertwined elements, compact and rich, very structured. ~$85

* 2010 Latour Corton Grancey: RASPBERRY! (Dried and candied.) So yummy. Elegant, floral, excellent balance, yum! ~$120


2001 Château de Beaucastel Châteauneuf-du-Pape: green pepper, vegitation, kind of awkward nose, but comes together in mouth, still tight and a long way to go. ~$100

2011 Paul Jaboulet Aîné Hermitage La Chappelle: warm, red fruits, spicy and rich, very nice. ~$150

2010 Ch. de Saint-Cosme Gigondas: floral, still very young, red fruits, spicy, kind of at the "terrible twos" I'd say. ~$60

* 2012 Vieux Télégraphe Châteauneuf-du-Pape La Crau: oooooh, wow, sexy red fruit, LOVELY nose. Good red fruit in mouth, formidable but elegant. ~$75


2011 Araujo Cabernet Sauvignon Eisele Vineyard: uber-spicy, mesquite, hickory, very woodsy. Seems Bordeaux-ian, lots of earth elements, subtle fruit, very interesting, pedigreed. ~$495

2011 Beaulieu Cabernet Sauvignon Private Reserve: dense black and red fruit, cedar, lovely in the mouth, spicy, brassy yet approachable. ~$100

1989 Beringer Cabernet Sauvignon Private Reserve: perfume! Nice red and black fruit, holding up SO well, still lots of structure. Wow. ~$80

2010 BOND Quella: soft nose of blueberry pie. Tangy, rich, purple and blue fruits, not too overblown, beautiful. ~$425

* 2012 Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon 40th Anniversary (not Special Selection): such an amazing nose, lavender, ANISE!, so unusual, chocolate bar, spearmint, amazingly special. ~$55

* 2010 Dominus: cassis, blueberry, blackberry liqueur, DENSE, opulent, lush, wow. ~$230

* 2010 Harlan Estate: Cocoa powder, licorice, violets, blue fruits—sexy nose. O. M. G… dense, rich, multi-faceted, big but balanced. Woooow. ~$850

1997 Heitz Cabernet Sauvignon Martha's Vineyard: earthy nose, but lovely fruit and herbs on palate. Good integration, nice length, soft finish. Holding up gorgeously. ~$195

2010 Merry Edwards Pinot Noir RRV Georganne: warm and inviting, verrrrry spicy, red fruit, yum, nice balance. ~$80

2011 Peter Michael Cabernet Sauvignon "Au Paradis": high-toned red fruit, dusty earth, really gorgeous in mouth, integrated components, fruit, earth, herbs, violet… ~$200

2011 Mondavi Cabernet Sauvignon To Kalon Reserve: cedar, earth, really fantastic, blueberry, elegant, violets, so lovely. ~$135

2011 Phelps Insignia: berry salad, velvety, luxe, herbs, chocolate, earth, solid and very nice! ~$180

* 2009 Revana Cabernet Sauvignon: dense, luxe, blue and black fruits, cherry, blackberry, really amazing. Elegant, spice, warm and rich, very nice—love it. Good structure too. ~$140

1994 Ridge Monte Bello: Earthy, luxe, dense nose, wet leaves, this is a 1994?!?! Still bright. A special wine. ~$230


2010 Cayuse Syrah Bionic Frog: really interesting, meaty, spice (I wrote "really interesting" AGAIN,) ignore cutesy label, something very cool going on! ~$250

* 2008 Charles Smith—K Vintners Syrah Morrison Lane: (they'd left by the time I arrived at the table, but I shook the last few drips out of the last bottle standing on the table!) Pepper, perfume, violets yessss, melted milk chocolate, lavender, YES. Wish I'd had more. ~$50


2008 Barbi Brunello di Montalcino: smoky, spicy, pleasant fruit in mouth. ~$50

2007 Biondi-Santi Brunello di Montalcino Tenuta Greppo: spicy, kind of light, but nice red fruit and spice. ~$190

2010 Pio Cesare Barolo Ornato: Anise, red fruit, elegant and sexy, nice structure, still a long ways to go. ~$110

* 2011 Gaja Sori San Lorenzo: red cherry pie, elegant, luxe - rich, supple red fruits. SO LOVELY. want more!! (Helps that I was chatting in Italian with Angelo Gaja himself.) ~$425

2011 Giacosa Barolo Falletto: tart ripe fruit on the somewhat closed nose, but lovely in the mouth; earthy, fruity, very elegant, "feminine, but a little slutty :-)" ~$170

* 2006 Masseto: earthy/dusty, really yummy, florals, spicy black and blue fruit, excellent integration—YES. $~800

2006 Ornellaia: bit earthy, spicy red fruit, rich. ~$190

2009 Planeta Syrah Maroccoli: great ripe nose, lots of fruit, so super tasty, nice example of Sra in Sicily. ~$37

2007 Il Poggione Brunello di Montalcino Vigna Paganelli Riserva: very nice and spicy, rich, velvety, good spice/red fruit balance. ~$85

* 2010 Sassicaia: very perfumey nose. Wow—really dense, purple florals, tasty, bit spicy, nice balance. Excellent. ~$160


* 2004 CVNE Rioja Imperial Gran Reserva: very earthy and spicy, tomato sauce. Dense, lots of tannins, loads of earth and integrated red fruit. ~$130

2002 R. López de Heredia Rioja Viña Tondonia Reserva: subtle nose, spices, red fruit, very nice, leafy, has a way to go. ~$40

2010 Muga Rioja Aro: soft, light and spicy nose. Very quaffable, still lots of structure. ~$175

2006 El Nido Jumilla: lavender, ripe red fruit at the nose's finish, super jammy, dense, great packed fruit. ~$135

2004 Vega Sicilia Unico Gran Reserva: meaty, warm, nice balance, rich, earthy, minerally. ~$370


2012 Mollydooker Carnival of Love Shiraz: blue fruits on the nose, dense, spicy, rich and lovely, red cherry liqueur, integrated. ~$70

2011 Penfolds RWT Shiraz: red fruit, BBQ (heat, coals,) spicy and dense red fruit, yum, bit of a bruiser but I like it :-) ~$145

* 2012 Two Hands Shiraz Bella's Garden: cherry liqueur, jammy red and black fruits, it's a monster! Just awesome, smooth and rich, very nice. ~$58


2007 Ch. Musar: really amazing nose (maybe my favorite Musar I've ever tasted,) clay, earthy, such specific terroir, spicy. ~$30


* 2009 Ch. D'Yquem: perfume, honey, florals (could inhale this nose for days,) bit of botrytis, candied orange peel, ginger—luscious. ~$850

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Okay, now that I see the above all laid out before me, I admit that I did a PRETTY DECENT job! But there were a few that eluded me, as they were all poured out when I got to their tables. To share my woe, I missed:

2007 Tignanello, 2010 Gaja Ca'Marcanda, 2009 Diamond Creek Volcanic Hill, 2004 Dom Perignon, 2010 Paul Hobbs Beckstoffer Las Piedras, 1996 Ch. Margaux, 2005 Murrieta Castillo Ygay Gran Reserva, 2011 Opus One, 2012 Pahlmeyer, 2010 Plumpjack, 2008 Roederer Rosé Champagne, 2010 Shafer Hillside Select, and NV Taittinger Prélude Champagne.

It was also tough to skip so many tables "on purpose" (I didn't make it to any Ports at all!) but such was the nature of the beast. Next year, I hope to be back for the entire event, so I don't have to be the Tasmanian Devil of sipping and spitting. But looking back, I think you'll agree I made the most of my brief time at the Wine Spectator NY Wine Experience Grand Tasting this year.