Monday, November 29, 2010

Top 20 Under $20!

Holiday time = more festivities. More festivities = more opportunities to open a nice bottle of wine. But let's be realistic, here. In the days when buying a Christmas tree nearly requires another mortgage, a budget is especially appealing. So here are my Top 20 Wines Under $20!

Some are wines that taste as if they cost twice as much, some are amazing bangs-for-the buck, and some are great to keep on hand for a decent quaff when visitors pop by unexpectedly. (Even in the middle of the night. With a couple of reindeer.)

20) 2008 Il Faggio Montepulciano ~$9. Lots of great values are to be found in Italy - this has a nose of dusty red cherries and pizza dough. Very soft, red and black fruits, cocoa mocha. Appealing and quaffable for under ten bucks.

19) 2008 Famiglia Cielo Primitivo ~$9. Another Italian value - the Primitivo is characteristically earthy with a hint of barnyard on the nose. Tart cherry hits you at first, then it softens into a warm, easy-drinking red.

18) 2009 Franz Etz Grüner Veltliner ~$13 (1-liter bottle). Grüners from Austria are notably crisp and refreshing, and the '09 Etz is no exception. Lemony acidity, some herbs, good minerality, and the characteristic "groo-vee" note of white pepper.

17) 2007 Jelu Pinot Noir ~$15. This perfectly pleasing pinot is from Patagonia. (How about that?) Light earth and dried cherry on the nose. Nice acidity, with herbs, black cherry and plum.

16) 2008 Montgras Quatro ~$18. While we're in South America, let's pop over to Chile for this red blend: nose of tobacco, herbs and spice with black fruits. Deceptively smooth, with black cherries, blueberries, and a hint of cherry cobbler. Very light tannins but very decent finish.

15) 2008 Woop Woop Shiraz ~$12. While there are many values in the world of Australian shiraz, in a large tasting I ran last year, this wine appealed to every single person in the room! Fairly intense black fruits, spice box & licorice, with a well-balanced finish.

14) 2009 Burgans Albariño ~$14. This Spanish white is tremendously appealing, with abundant notes of peach, candied orange peel, honey, a hint of nuttiness and a nice acidity. Alone or with food, Albariño may be the best white you've never heard of.

13) 2009 Le Bourcier Macôn "Cuvee Elena" ~$16. 100% Chardonnay from this region in Burgundy, this amazing value exhibits minerals, white peach, lemon and Granny Smith apple. Zippy acidity combines with those flavors for a long finish.

12) 2009 Charles Smith "Boom Boom" Syrah ~$19. Renowned winemaker Charles Smith is cementing Washington State's place on the winemaking map. You may indeed go "boom" with this incendiary red - loads of dark fruits, spices, tobacco, incredible finish.

11) NV Gruet Brut ~$16. Amaze your friends when you tell them this fantastic Methode Champenoise (ie., Champagne-style) sparkler is from New Mexico. Great green apple and citrus notes are balanced by a warm toastiness. Don't wait for New Year's!

10) 2009 Mapuche Sauvignon Blanc ~ $10. This Chilean SB has a nose of kiwi, lime and orange blossom. It is very tart, with a refreshing minerality and a predominant note of Lemonheads (yes, the sour lemon candy.) I actually wrote in my notes: "party in your mouth!" Great to pair with food.

9) 2009 Terra Andina Carminère ~$9. Another wonderful value from Chile with a nose of inky violets and dark fruits. Abundant notes of cola, pencil lead, cocoa, cassis, black cherry and licorice with late-arriving soft tannins. Interestingly intense flavors and yet lighter and not overpowering mouthfeel.

8) 2008 Joel Gott Cabernet Sauvignon 815 ~$16. The first of three US Cabs to hit the top 10 of this list, the Gott 815 has earth and sweet cherries on the nose, with a great body, lots of fruit (blueberry, cassis) and mesquite and pine notes.

7) 2009 Terredora Falanghina Irpina ~$17. This southern Italian white shows honey, pineapple and strong grassy notes. Rich and complex with apricot, pear, and a citrusy finish with good minerality.

6) 2007 Ex Libris Cabernet Sauvignon ~$19. Proving that Washington State is vying with California for US Cab fame, this incredible dense, intense CS is full of cassis, cedar, cherry, herbs, some vanilla, and a well-balanced finish that goes on and on.

5) 2008 Argiolas Costamolino Vermentino ~$14. There is a voluptuousness to this Sardinian white, perhaps from the combination of peach, pear, spice, lemon-lime citrus, baking herbs, minerals, some tropical fruit and perfectly matched acidity.

4) 2008 Albert Seltz Riesling ~ $17. It is the burden of many wineaux to convince neophyte wine-lovers that Rieslings are not sicky-sweet cringe-inducing wines. Share this with them: light golden honey in color with a typical Riesling viscocity, and a nose of cantaloupe, pineapple, spice and orange peel. Forward but not-too-intense acidity with key lime, honeysuckle, melon, spice, green apple and minerals and a hint of residual CO2 "shpritz."

3) NV Sigura Viudas Brut Rosé ~$10. This rosé Cava from Spain is another incredible sparkler. Don't be fooled by the deep pinky-red color, this wine is incredibly light and refreshing, quite dry, bubbles for days, great acidity, and notes of strawberries, citrus, plum, and a hint of earthiness. I suggest buying a whole case - for toasting, gifts, holiday aperitifs or even pairing with pizza.

2) 2008 Juan Gil Monastrell ~$19. A true knock-your-socks-off wine from Jumilla, Spain. 100% Monastrell (Mourvedre) - inky dark, intense, smoky, dense black fruits, earth, spice, oak, sweet tannins. Absolutely screams to be paired with roast lamb and steak (sorry, vegetarians... also sauteed mushrooms, roasted eggplant and blue cheese!)

1) 2005 Teatown Cellars Right Bank ~$17. My number-one wine in this list is a merlot-based Bordeaux-style blend from this Californian "virtual winery." Keep your socks off lest they be knocked away again by the prominent cassis and blackberry syrup on the nose. In the mouth, it is lush and warm, with great notes of herb, eucalyptus, red and black berries, a hint of spice box and earth, and a lovely, long finish. A simply gorgeous strong yet stylish wine.

# # #

I hope you enjoy the above wines, I know I for one do! (Ahem, if anyone is looking for a Christmas, Hannukah or Kwanzaa gift for the Wine Minx, just scroll the list, and I will be a happy wineaux this holiday season.) Cheers!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

"Q and A" Time!

Dear Reader, dear dear Wineaux Reader, I want you to know that I am here for you.

Currently I am hard at work on three articles soon to be posted here: 1) "20 Under $20" - which may become "25 Under $25" or even "30 Under $30," as I can't seem to stop myself from stumbling across AMAZING values and bangs-for-the-buck. But I am frequently asked about great-valued wines, so this will be that, and you can stop bugging me.

2) "Bubbly" - quite possibly my favorite style of wine. Oh, what a little secondary fermentation does to a gal's heart! This article will cover sparklers from the world (Italy, US, Spain, Oz...), NV Champagnes, and prime bubblies in every price-point category. Ok, ok, maybe a vintage Champy or two, who's sharing?

3) "Wine Gifts for the Holidays" - how to shop for the Wineaux in your life... the wines and the wine-related trinkets that will go above and beyond.

Those of you who have taken class with me or attended a tasting with me or have had an occasion to sit next to me when a bottle is opened will know that I can wax rhapsodic on the many topics of wine for hours.


I need your help to focus my oenophiliac mind. (I may have just made up a new word, there.)

What questions do you have? What regions puzzle you? What grape gives you vexed wrinkles on your brow? What is an olfactory epithelium anyway?

Dear, dear Wineaux Reader, ask away. I am here for you.

(Well, not for the next few minutes, I have to go open a bottle of wine. But after that, I'll be here for you.)

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Take a Tour of Italy!

Recently I attended a seminar with the Italian group Grandi Marchi (Istituto del Vino Italiano di Qualità) - an organization of seventeen wineries who have banded together to help promote development of high-quality Italian wines as well as foster educational opportunities concerning Italian wines all over the world.

If you wonder why such a group is needed, consider this: the finest Italian wines are usually cited as a global afterthought to the finest French and American wines. Consider this too: there are twenty winemaking regions in Italy which cover the entire country and the island of Sicily. Also, an extraordinary number of grapes used in making wine in these regions are completely indigenous and nearly unheard of outside of Italy. And finally, consider the fact that many people around the world have yet to conceptually shake the history of sub-quality wines that Italy has produced in the past, and think of Italian wines merely as an accompaniment to pizza or pasta.

Ahh, the obstacles and confusion start to pile up, don't they? No wonder that the normally individualistic, self-sufficient Italians are coming together to stake a collective claim in the world wine market!

The seminar was a fascinating tour of Italy. Seven members of the Grandi Marchi spoke of their regions, the climate, terroir and grapes with passion and enthusiasm. Later, the discussion turned to the difficulties they faced in sharing their amazing products with the world. Finally, we were able to taste many of their wines, as well as a number of other offerings from wineries pouring at the Simply Italian Great Wines U.S. Tour 2010.

The following tasting notes were compiled with the best possible accurate information, and are roughly grouped by region from north to south. Prices where available based on notes from Starred entries were personal favorites.

Alois Lageder Pinot Grigio 2009 (Alto Adige) Fermented in 90% stainless steel, very pale color, nice tropical fruit notes, very light and enjoyable. ~$14
Alois Lageder Pinot Bianco Haberle 2008 (Alto Adige) Superbly quaffable with prominent notes of white peach. Nice value! ~$12
Ca' del Bosco Franciacorta Brut NV (Lombardy) Straw and a hint of barnyard with good lemon/lime citrus. ~ $30
Ca' del Bosco Cuvee Prestige NV (Lombardy) Lovely lemon curd, dried herbs, great mousse, nicely acidic, good body. ~ $38
Pio Cesare Barolo 2006 (Piedmont) Somewhat muted nose, good translucent color. Big, dusty and rich with suitable tannins, dried leaves, earthy and subtle fruit. ~ $48
*Pio Cesare Barbera d'Alba 2008 (Piedmont) Black fruits, pepper, smokiness, integrated tannins, nice silky mouthfeel. Luscious, great value. ~$19
Michele Chiarlo Barolo DOCG 2006 (Piedmont) A Barolo of traditional style, great fruit, elegant and powerful with nice tannins. ~$40
Tenuta Carretta Roero Arneis Cayega DOCG 2009 (Piedmont) Aged in 100% stainless steel, this is very clean with a nice minerality and good acidity. ~$15
Tenuta Carretta Roero Arneis Canorei DOCG 2008 (Piedmont) Aged in 50% stainless steel and 50% oak. Interesting roasted meat smoky nose, with light acidity. $N/A
Piera Martellozzo Ribolla Gialla Perle di Piera IGT 2009 (Venezia) The yellow-tinted bottle is a bit cutesy for my taste, but this sparkler is pleasantly citrusy and bright. ~$15
Piera Martellozzo Rose Perle di Piera IGT 2009 (Venezia) Strawberry and rose petals. Very light character. ~$15
*Piera Martellozzo Muller Thurgau IGT 2009 (Venezia) Lovely notes of litchi and yellow apple. Very nice! ~$14
Antonutti Prosecco Collevento Extra Dry DOC NV (Friuli Venezia Giulia) Pleasant, hint of sweetness, white peach, good acidity, nice mousse, clean with a touch of soapiness. ~$15
Antonutti Vis Terrae Traminer DOC 2008 (Friuli Grave) Very unusual character. Sweet dirty sock nose, angular (this wine provoked polarizing reactions, some loved it, some were turned off - interesting!) ~$14
*Masi Amarone della Valpolicella Classico DOC 2006 (Veneto) Nose is earthy in a very terroir-specific way, but loads of fruit on the palate. Interesting and drinkable with light acidity personified in crunchy red fruit on the finish. ~$50
*Fattoria Fibbiano Chianti Superiore Casalini DOCG 2009 (Tuscany) 80% Sangiovese, 20& Canaiolo Nero. Very bright nose! Velvety, super lush. Tangy red fruit, exceptionally bright, appealing, good tannins. Not yet available in the U.S., which is a travesty. (Hello, importers?!)
Azienda Agricola La Cignozza Chianti DOCG Riserva 2007 (Tuscany) Earthy, with brick dust and a hint of mocha. ~$30
Azienda Agricola La Cignozza Chianti DOCG Riserva 2003 (Tuscany) Nose almost off-puttingly earthy! But loads of blackberry liqueur on the palate combines nicely. ~$29
Antinori Tignanello Toscana IGT 2007 (Tuscany) Earthy, dried red cherries, very tannic with tangy red cherry slicing through. ~ $75
Biondi Santi Brunello di Montalcino DOCG 2003 (Tuscany) Super earthy, lots of terroir, bit of barnyard. Extremely tannic yet has a nice elegance. ~$150
Tenuta san Guido Guidalberto Toscana IGT 2008 (Tuscany) Very spicy and light with nice fruit. ~$40
*Tenuta san Guido Sassicaia Bolgheri DOC 2007 (Tuscany) Barnyard nose, smoke. Lush and crunchy red fruit, smooth, heady. A wine to get lost in. ~$160
Lungarotti Rubesco "Vigna Monticchio" Torgiano Rosso Riserva 2005 (Umbria) This single-vineyard blend of 70% Sangiovese and 30% Canaiolo Nero is super dry, but nice and approachable with good red fruit. ~$50
*Umani Ronchi Cumaro Conero Riserva DOCG 2006 (Marche) Dusty with sweet violets, eucalyptus, nice fruit and balanced tannins. Strong but elegant. ~$41
Mastroberardino Radici Taurasi Riserva DOCG 2004 (Campania) Perfumey nose, light and elegant, good structure - violets, plums. ~$43
Rivera Il Falcone Castel Del Monte Riserva DOC 2005 (Apulia) Blend of Montepulciano and the rare Nero di Troia grape. Bright, fruit-forward. Interesting and zippy. The Montepulciano adds a nice softness to the finish. ~$29
*Edoardo Miroglio EM Brut 2006 (Thracian Valley, Bulgaria) Hey, what's a bubbly from Bulgaria doing here? The Miroglio family and EM's oenologist are connected with Tenuta Carretta in Piedmont. That's enough for me - I love this! Yeasty, toasted brioche, great character. Not currently available in the US, alas. $N/A
Edoardo Miroglio EM Brut Rose 2006 (Thracian Valley, Bulgaria) Another winner, light, nice character, great acidity, huge mousse. $N/A
Edoardo Miroglio EM Chardonnay Reserve 2007 (Thracian Valley, Bulgaria) Side note: my interest in Bulgarian wine is peaked! This has a super 'merde'y, dirty sock nose, but is light in character with notes of lemon peel. $N/A (Some availability in Italy and Canada)
Tasca d'Almerita Rosso del Conte 2005 (Sicily) Huge barnyard nose! Lots of robust fruit, good tannins. Very appealing and enjoyable. ~$55
*Donnafugata Passito di Pantelleria Ben Rye' DOC 2008 (Sicily) A blend of dried and ripe fruit, with the dried berries laid out on racks for 20-30 days in the sun and wind of the island. Honey-caramel color, peach and apricot and herbs, honey and raisin notes, very unusual! Not too sweet, has a lot of personality. ~$32/.375ml

# # #

All in all, a wide-ranging and delicious experience! Hopefully this tour of Italy has whetted more appetites for Italian wine, mine included. Although the amount and variety of information regarding wines from Italy may seem intimidating, it is completely worth the undertaking. Bravo, Italia!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

2007 Ex Libris Cabernet Sauvignon, WA

When I'm asked for a good-value wine, I have a few that come to mind immediately. Certain offerings in the $8-$20 range I find complex and interesting and enjoyable to drink, and I don't hesitate to tell people about them.
So, without hesitation -- I submit the 2007 Ex Libris Cabernet Sauvignon from Columbia Valley in Washington State. I first tasted the Ex Libris Cab a few years back, and grabbed this latest release out of an "Oh, yeah, I remember this wine..." sentiment. And, boy, I am SO happy I did.
First you have the bottle; intriguing label. A take on DaVinci's Vitruvian Man, missing a few limbs, or maybe just VM trying to stay upright after a few glasses of this wine. It's a big bottle, thick brown-olive glass, deep punt. Intended or not, the bottle subtly suggests the experience of the wine to come.
You open it, pour a glass, go to sniff... and Wha-BAM! I think maybe Emeril would like this wine, because every time I stick my nose in the glass, it all but smacks me upside the head to a BAM! soundtrack. The '07 Ex Libris has an incredibly heady nose of dense red and black fruit, violets, cedar and spice. This is a New World Cab, no doubt, but one that suggests an elegance and measured richness lacking in some of its counterparts, lumbering along like overbearing party-crashers. (You might get a kick out of them for a while, but soon they repeat their jokes, and then get sloppy and loud and annoying and hit on your girlfriend.)
This juicy wine has a mouth-painting wash of lush blackberry, cassis, raspberry, black cherry, violets and a hint of anise. All somewhat common Cab descriptors, but rarely have I enjoyed so many in one mouthful. There is a TON going on here, especially when you factor in the price point; I bought this wine today for $19. A mere nineteen dollars. I didn't mean to give that part away so soon, but I couldn't help it. (An online search shows it retails in the NYC area from $17-23.)
On the long, even finish, you'll find soft tannins and a hint of acidity. There were a few spots on the bottom of my glass that at first I took to be minor sedimentary particles, but discovered were tiny bubbles; perhaps a miniscule amount of secondary fermentation came to the party, but was of no affront.
The grapes for this wine were sourced from vineyards scattered around Washington and California. Some historical details are hazy to uncover, but one imagines that the Ex Libris (meaning "from the library," those scattered vineyards being the "library," get it?) is a labor of love from some winemakers who had a certain product in mind - a wine that costs half as much as it tastes like it should.
In my opinion, make that a wine that costs a third as much as it tastes like it should. I could keep going on and on, but I need to get back to my glass. Fire up the grill, throw on some steaks, or invite your vegetarian friends for grilled portobellos, but grab a bottle of the Ex Libris and prepare to luxuriate.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

What makes a wine "good?"

I just popped an '05 Chateau les Ormes from Bordeaux to go with my roast chicken dinner... this wine cost about thirteen bucks, and isn't even designated past the region (i.e. as "Bordeaux Superior" or "Fifth Growth," etc.,) so I wasn't expecting much. But I knew the vintage was drinking well, and decided to give it a try. And it's pretty good, how about that. People in my wine classes often ask what makes a wine "good," and I usually bust out the old stalwart, "If you like it, and you can afford it, then it's good!"

But for people who are in the process of developing their palates, I realize that a bit more depth on this issue might be helpful. I can see that a wine like the '05 Ormes might divide a class. It certainly tastes of dusty terroir, with dried cherries and noticeable tannins. Many students would prefer the "New World" jammy berry brightness often found in CA Cabernet Sauvignons. They might say they don't feel this wine is good. And per my stalwart line, if they don't like it, then to them, it's not good. For others, this wine may taste rich but not heavy, with simple yet pleasant notes. They might feel it's a very good wine for the value and make a note to look for it in their local wine shop.

One of the reasons I teach wine classes at all is to help people feel less intimidated by wine. And I usually expose them to a wide variety of wines, grape varietals and styles to do so. For every person who loves the oaky, buttery California Chardonnay, there is a person who can't stand it, and loves the zippy, tropical fruit and citrus Australian Sauvignon Blanc instead. And so on and so forth, until the room is divided into camps, and depending on where we are in the evening and if they've been spitting or not, vociferously rambunctious about their favorites.

When I point out how long and balanced the finish of the Aussie SB is, the Chard-lovers may reluctantly agree. And when I ask who notices the delicate floral notes of the Cali Chard, some of the SB side may raise a hand. But rarely do I find a novice Wino who appreciates two relatively opposite styles, and I wonder why that is.

Is it simply too early in the game of learning about wine to move past basic preference? I choose such a clear variety of wines in my intro workshops in an effort to help my students notice the differences more easily, and learn the vocabulary and describe what they like to bartenders or wine merchants. But the subtleties of wine tasting get lost in the shuffle. I guess I'm okay with that, as long as they keep open minds in the future, and keep tasting a wide range of wines.

I will answer that question now. I think what makes a good wine is this: one that stays with you. One that has a number of balanced components, and a long, even finish. One that elevates the meal it is paired with. One that subtly evolves in the glass. One you look forward to drinking. As the price point rises, so should the experience of these elements. Will the '05 Ormes carve out a place in the list of my Top Favorite Wines Ever? Maybe not. But for a Bordeaux under $15, I am enjoying it very much!