Sunday, December 16, 2012

TOP 20 UNDER $20 of 2012!!

This is it!  The post you've all been anxiously waiting for!  My annual list of amazing and AFFORDABLE wines is finally here.

I made the list actually 21 this year, since one of my faves might not yet be available in the U.S.  But we get new imports all the time, and it's reallllly good, so I had to include it.  In 2012, it seems as if Spain and Italy (and Washington State!) were the places to go for value finds.  Also I came across a lot of rosés that were outstanding values.  (If you’re not a big rosé drinker, it’s definitely time to start experimenting!  Do not unfairly judge the PINK.)  And my two TOP PICKS were both from Portugal, where I’ve long tried to steer Wineaux to find amazing wines at great values.  I tasted hundreds of different wines this year, always looking for the best bangs for the buck… and here they are.  There’s a little something for everyone, including some slightly more unusual finds.  You know I like “weird” wines, and some of these really show how enjoyable oddballs can be!  Cheers.


2011 Domaine de Belle Vue Sauvignon Gris, Loire, France $14 – Sauv Gris is a Sauv Blanc cousin from the Loire. Gorgeous balance of round mouthfeel and high citrusy acidity.   Pear and lemongrass on nose, minerally with white peach/tangerine in mouth and a grassy finish.  Clean but warm.  Sounds schitzo but isn't!
It sure LOOKS like a European label, doesn't it?
These guys are a little whimsical.
And cheeky.

2011 Independent Producers Dionysus Vineyard Chardonnay, Washington State $14 - Rich & viscous US Chard with no oak but lots of oomph.  Loads of spice and minerality balance the pear and stone fruit flavors.  Very long finish. >>

2010 La Miranda de Secastilla Garnacha Blanca, Viñas del Vero, DO Somontano, Spain $15 - Heady nose of florals and peachy nectar.  Perfectly balanced acidity.  Rich but clean and food friendly.  Loads of fruit and florals.  Yum.

2010 Jed Steele Shooting Star Aligoté, Washington State $16 - Aligoté is the oft-overshadowed second white grape of Burgundy – this one hails from Washington state and is appley/citrusy with a smooooth finish, unusual and verrrry yummy.


2011 Viñaluz Rosado, Bodegas Real, Spain $3 - Yes, three dollars.  Granted, I got it on sale (down from a whopping $7,) but either way, this wine is a stupid-crazy value. Bright, rich, great berry/cherry notes, lip-smacking.

NV Dürnberg Brut Sparkling Rosé, Austria $10 - You know I love sparklers. This is made from the red Zwigelt Austrian grape, and is floral and lightly fruity but dry dry dry.  Great for a party! 

2011 Ontañón Vetiver Rosado DOCa Rioja, Spain $12 - Bright pink.  Earth, minerals and strawberry on the nose.  Chewy fruit, not "too sweet" seeming.  Balanced with herby elements and good acidity.  Very nice.

<< 2011 Heredade do Esporão, Defesa Rosé, Portugal $13 – A lot of depth of flavor.  Minerality, berries, a bit of meatiness…  Just fantastic!  It quenches your thirst and yet you race back to the bottle - so satisfying, I could drink it all day.  TOP PICK.
2011 Wolffer Rosé $15 from Long Island, NY  Pale salmon pink, with underripe strawberry, minerality, salinity.  Very scrumptious for such a light wine.  Good acidity with florals, bitter herbs, minerals, tart cherries.  Dependable and food-friendly. >>


2010 Bodegas Real "Nazares" Tempranillo, Spain $6 – The quality of entry level Tempranillos can be tough to navigate; this one is absolutely yummy – especially at this price!  Crafted in a more youthful style for drinking now, it has soft and round berry salad flavors.

2011 Cantina Vallebelbo Sparkling Brachetto d'Acqui DOCG, Italy $12 - light rose and berries with a SLIGHT sweetness, gorgeous balance of herbs and fruit and freshness.  Party wine, easy quaffer, fun and flirty.  Might not yet be available in the US.  (I’m working on it!)

<< 2011 Edgebaston The Pepper Pot, South Africa $13 – A blend of Syrah, Mourvedre, Cinsault, Grenache, Tannat, AND Viognier, this inky red is rich and spicy with loads of pepper and dark fruits.  Structured, but smooooth – and, dare I say, sexy?!  Pretty heavy-duty but not overpowering, and a bit unusual.

2009 Cortes de Cima Red, Portugal $15 – Dark fruits, good integrated tannins, rich and full but velvety.  Very nice - this is so huge, it cries out for food!  This blend of Syrah, Aragonez (Tempranillo), Cabernet Sauvignon, Petit Verdot, Touriga Nacional and Alicante Bouschet is a great value.  TOP PICK.

2007 Martínez Lacuesta Crianza DOCa Rioja, Spain $16 - Spicy!  Smoky, good fruit, meaty with lush ripe cherry.  Good balance of fruit and earthier elements, and a nice finish.  
Sorry about the candle wax - I had this on hand
when the lights went out during Hurricane Sandy.

2010 Montalbera Grignolino d'Asti, Italy $17 - Unusual color, pale orangey/brick-y.  Cherry cola nose, wonderfully strange!  Light but complex flavors of black cherry, some herbs and a bit peppery.  Good acid and yet smooth.  So interesting and unusual - Pinot Noir fans must try! >>

<< 2008 Weinhof Scheu Pinot Noir, Germany $17 – Riesling is the star in Germany, but this Pinot is a lovely find.  Incredibly light seeming but with a strong presence of cherry, earth, pepper and tea rose floral notes.

2011 Conti di Buscareto Lacrima di Morro D'Alba, Italy $18 - Not the Alba in Piedmont, but in Marche.  Dark bright magenta.  Florals - lavender, roses!  Very smooth, super light acidity, hint of supple tannins.  Violets and dark cherries in mouth.  Kind of like a Beaujolais Gamay... but not at all like it too!

2010 Mas des Chimères Oeillade Languedoc, France $19 - A meaty earthiness with dusty spice on the nose, this 100% Grenache has dark berries, minerals, a hint of charcoal, rose, smoked meat and herbs.  Medium-bodied, but spicy richness and long length in the mouth.  Bring on the funk.

The Barbera on this list is on the left.
Alas the Barbera on the right is NOT under $20. 
2010 Qupé Syrah Central Coast, California $19 - Very herbalicious!  Lots of rosemary, light, yet very well-structured.  It's hard to find a “Rhône Ranger” Syrah with this much personality at this price point.

2009 Vietti Barbera d'Asti Tre Vigne, Italy $19 - CHERRY! Black cherry liqueur, herbs and cola.  Very perfumey in mouth, bright crunchy forward fruit.  Good tart acidity but smooth finish.  Somewhat of a masculine style from vineyards abutting legendary Barolo. >>

Well, Wineaux, there you have it.  Please let me know if you try any of these amazing finds!  And always let me know if you come across some superb under-$20 values yourself... everyone's wallet will thank you.


Wednesday, November 14, 2012


Oh, Wineaux - this is the perennial question: what, oh what, to serve with Thanksgiving dinner?!?!

This question transcends the usual food-and-wine-pairing quandaries.  Thanksgiving dinner is arguably the most scrutinized meal of the year for American families.  It is a gathering fraught with family-dynamic stresses.  Not to mention culinary ones: cooking a large turkey can be a pain in the rear.

Even if you have a relatively harmonious group of relatives and a sure-fire way of brining your bird, the fact of the matter is that Thanksgiving dinner is a pretty bland affair.

Boring turkey, fatty gravy, bready stuffing, other starchy sides mashed within an inch of their lives... maybe, just maybe, a tang of cranberry.  "What in the world do you pair with this?"  Wineaux ask me every year.

The answer is not that helpful:

"Pretty much anything."

Before you fling a spoonful of mashed potatoes in my face, hear me out.  With the exception of a humongous, hearty red wine, almost any other wine will stand up to this blob of boring, starchy food.

A white with a lot of acidity will cut through the fat of the gravy and butter-infused starches.  A heartier white with maybe less acidity will balance out the bland turkey (I mean, come on - even if it's juicy, turkey is pretty bland, people.)  A light red with good acidity and even a medium-bodied red will enliven the table of beige in front of you.

But wait - before you whine, "That Minx is no help at ALL, so we'll just open that Cheapo Chard Aunt Maud brought," let me implore you to have some fun with your wine choices this Thanksgiving!

You put an array of food out there on the table in front of you, why not do the same with wine?  Grab a few extra glasses off the shelf and let your guests pour a few different wines to sample with their meal.  Each guest can have a smorgasbord of food-and-wine-pairing options in front of him or her!

Here are some ideas to get you started:

Champagne or other sparkling wine: (White or Rosé)
Champagne is festive, Thanksgiving is festive, Champagne is Thanksgiving, QED.  Plus, the bubbles and acidity will perk up the food.  If your budget is tight, try a sparkling Chenin Blanc from the Loire Valley, a Spanish Cava, or an American bubbly like my faves Gruet (from New Mexico, of all places!) and Domaine Chandon.

Grüner Veltliner from Austria: (White)
With light, citrus fruit and a characteristic note of white pepper, GV is an easy-drinking and affordable white option.  Just call it "Groo-ner."  While many people, myself included, usually think of Grüners as a summertime quaffer, they are a good wine to have on hand as a lighter option in this kind of array.

Alsatian Riesling, Gewürztraminer or Pinot Blanc: (White)
I have twice in the past month enjoyed outstanding wines from Alsace with my meal.  The 2005 Domaine Weinbach Riesling Clos des Capucins was viscous and rich with outrageously heady florals - a party in its own right, and perfect to pair with food.  (~$60)  Also, scroll down to the prior Hurricane post for my reports on some of MaisonTrimbach's amazing offerings.  Gewürz-es will have rounder fruit and spice, and the Pinot Blancs will show more clean citrus when they're young and gain a special complexity as they age.

Beaujolais (Beaujolais Nouveau): (Red)
Beaujolais is a region in France near Burgundy and it is where the Gamay grape shines.  Gamay is one of the lightest, flirtiest red grapes out there.  And later this week (Nov 15 to be exact,) le Beaujolais Nouveau will be arrivée!  The Nouveau is the first wine - from anywhere - released from this year's harvest, because the freshness of this grape requires no aging.  It is made to be consumed straightaway, so it coincides wonderfully with our Thanksgiving holiday, and darned if it doesn't go perfectly with this kind of meal.

Spanish Grenache: (Red)
Another favorite grape for the crunchy red berry, cranberry, pomegranate experience.  In many cases, it will also exhibit spicy notes, chocolate, and dark fruits for a richer experience.  Ask your wine merchant for a recommendation - as Grenache is a less-common solo grape variety, chances are your purveyor has hand-picked his or her selections and will be very familiar with their personalities.  These should also be quite affordable with many good options under $20.

The Boom Boom Syrah, a rosé from Provence,
and a bubbly (Cava) that is ALSO rosé!
New World Syrah: (Red)
Like our friend Grenache, Syrah wines can swing far into the spicy, meaty, big and bold range.  But there are some, like the 2011 Charles Smith Boom Boom Syrah from Washington state, that gloriously exhibit a berry salad of fruit.  I have written about this wine before, and return to it again and again for its fun personality and brightness.

Viognier: (White)
A white grape that should have more fans, Viognier is naturally lower in acid so often ends up as a richer wine-drinking experience in the glass.  Some styles are light and floral, but there are others - many from CA or Australia - that are quite complex.  And many from the South of France have intense herb and earthy notes.

Rosé: (erm, Rosé)
Finally people are catching on to the idea that rosé wines aren't just for the summer.  Since they can be made well from almost every red grape, just imagine the array of styles out there!  With the lightness of a white wine and the oomph from the red grape skins and personalities, you have to try at least one rosé with your Bird.  I did a post in 2011 highlighting a number of different styles if you need a few ideas: Rosé Around the World, or, Not Yo' Momma's White Zin.

Me: "Maggie, put the bottle down before you
drink it all, I need to get a picture for my blog!"

And, please, skip the White Zin - if you want something a little sweet, try a German Riesling Auslese or a slightly sweet Brachetto from Italy, like the NV Banfi Rosa Regale.  Muuuuuuch better.

Here's hoping your Thanksgiving is a glorious celebration with family and friends, and if it is also an opportunity to sample a few different wines, so much the better!


Sunday, November 4, 2012


I am a proud New Yorker.  And, like many of my neighbors, I have spent most of the last week in the dark.  After Hurricane Sandy came through, I have had to read by candlelight and walk 30 blocks to shower and wear two sweaters at night and throw out everything in my fridge except for a few condiments.  Now that my power - oh, blessed power! - is restored, I can post about a topic that just about everyone dealing with Hurricane Sandy knows: hurricanes and wine go hand in hand.

As I write, many are still completely devastated by the aftermath of this storm.  I have dear friends who live in Far Rockaway, literally steps from the ocean, who now have three feet of sand blocking access to their house (which, mercifully, was otherwise unaffected.)  I have other close friends who live in Hoboken, who had to evacuate their building wearing garbage bags as makeshift waders, who have lost everything they were storing in the basement.  Photographs, mementos, linens, clothes, files... irreplaceable markers of their lives.

There are still thousands without power, gasoline, and even homes that may never be restored.  If you are inclined, you can help by making a donation to the American Red Cross. Click here for their Hurricane Sandy relief page.

That said, most people I know spent the past week up to their eyeballs in WINE.

Here's a little about my Hurricane Wine Week:

I was sipping on a NV Gruet Blanc de Noirs when the power went out.  I opened my fridge super fast to grab the bottle and put it in my bathtub (which I'd already filled with water) to keep it cool long enough to drink.  As it got warmer and warmer, I drank it faster and faster.

The next night, my friend Carol (another refugee from NY's newest neighborhood, SoPo [South of Power]) and I walked uptown to some other friends' for dinner and wine and a shower.  Steve and Carlos were incredibly generous with their home... and their wine.  Notably, a Dal Forno Romano Amarone della Valpolicella - as you know, I adore Amarones, and I'm sorry I didn't record the vintage, it was lovely.  A 2001 Poggio Antico Brunello di Montalcino Riserva was simply gorgeous and drinking wonderfully.  As the meal wound down and the conversation wound up, we hit a couple of Burgunides: a 2008 Drouhin Meursault-Perrières, and a 2009 Domaine de la Vougerie Pommard Les Petits Noizons, and headed to the finish line with a 2007 Voge Cornas "Vielles Vignes" from the Rhône.  Sooooo amazing, such a wonderful bounty to share - I will never be able to repay them.  But I promised that sometime soon they'd come to my house and I'd try.

When the trains running to CT came online again, I hoofed it to Grand Central Station and hopped out to see my folks.  They had definitely dodged a bullet - a few trees were down on their property but none had damaged the house.  One GIANT pine tree fell on the driveway, but Dad was able to pull out the chainsaw and carve a path out.  However large the tree looks in this picture, it is much bigger in reality.  The upper edge of the root swath stood at least 9 feet in the air.

Luckily they'd also kept power, so I hopped in the shower - praise hot water! - because we were going to a wine dinner in a nearby town that had also managed to keep power.  And not twenty minutes later... my folks' power went out!  Gaaah.  However, Dad had a generator that switched on, so there were a few lights, one working plug to charge our phones, and one shower that would stay warm.

What else to do but... go to the wine dinner and drink lots of wine!  This dinner was an event at Boulevard 18 in New Canaan, CT honoring the wines of the Alsace legend Maison Trimbach.  I have long loved Trimbach wines and it was spectacular to sample so many, beautifully paired with a sumptuous six-course meal from Chefs David Raymer and Kerry Dolan.

I adored the 2006 Trimbach Pinot Gris Réserve Personelle Gold Label.  It was elegant and concentrated, with hazelnut, honey and apricot notes, bright yet rich and sexy, and paired wonderfully with the Wild Mushroom Strudel course.   I also got to try something I'd never had before - the 2009 Trimbach Pinot Noir Reserve.  It's unusual to find many red wines from Alsace, although Pinot Noir does grow well in cooler climates.  This had a cherry and pomegranate nose and was herbal with good fruit in the mouth.  Of course, the star in the Trimbach crown once again shone brightly, and I just lapped up the 2005 Trimbach Riesling Cuvée Frédéric Emile.  It had a heady nose of petrol and white florals, super unctuous yet flirty, just amazing.  My mother has always fancied this wine, and while there are not many 2005s left on the market, I may pick up a couple of 2006s for her for Christmas.  (I'm such a good daughter.)

Believe me, there were many more bottles consumed over the past week by this Minx.  When you lose power, there is a loss of control.  You worry about your friends and loved ones, and even about strangers a few miles away whose lives have been devastated.  Wine is always a beverage for celebration, but it is also a beverage that soothes and comforts in times like these.

I joked about my hurricane essentials: candles, batteries, water, and lots of wine - but nearly everyone I know turned straight to the vino to help them get through and did not laugh about it.

My thoughts and heart go out to those still dealing with the repercussions of the storm.  We seem to have a nor'easter on its way in a few days, which hopefully won't be too bad for anyone, especially those still recovering from Sandy.  But I will make sure that I restock the essentials: candles, batteries, water, and lots and LOTS of wine.

Cheers -

And please, help in any way you can.  Thank you.

Thursday, October 25, 2012


I know you all have "those days" when a minor frustration turns into something that makes you want to smack your head.  I like to say I never regret something I've done, only something I didn't do; but in this case, it was leaving my phone behind in my charger and what I didn't do was bring it to the Bordeaux Under One Roof tasting today.

As a professional Wineau who attends numerous industry tastings (most especially to find amazing wines to share with YOU, Reader,) I use my fancy camera phone to snap pictures to illustrate these little stories of mine.  It's a simple but necessary tool.

Sooooo... I was in the lobby of the illustrious Empire State Building when I realized: I didn't have my phone.  Oh well, I'll figure something out, no biggie, I thought.  Until I waltzed out into the space on the 61st floor and saw the amazing 360-degree view.  Wowza.

When all was said and done, I regretted TWO things this day.  1) No proof of the birds'-eye view and the stunning scope of New York City laid out at my feet, and 2) that most of the wines didn't knock my socks off thereby distracting me from regret #1.

Let me say that these were not the Bordeaux from a millionaire's cellar, like the First Growths, even the Second and Third Growths, that are highly rated, globally lauded, cost oodles of money and are usually not even ready to drink for ten years after their release.  These were more entry-level wines from one of the most storied wine regions in the world.  I was hoping to find a ton of wines with a fantastic expression of the region at an affordable price point.  Alas, that may have been too much to hope for.

The handful of whites I tasted (Sauvignon Blancs, some blended with Sémillon and maybe one or two other grapes) all had intoxicating noses.  However, none of them lived up to the promise of the first whiff on the palate.  None were bad - they were just... forgettable.  I've had some lovely white Bordeaux in the past - I've even written about them here - but did not find any new faves today.

Many of the reds were fairly forgettable as well.  To cultivate Bordeaux from a lower price-point, you can look in the outlying regional areas like Entre-Deux-Mers and the Côtes regions (like Côte de Blaye and Côte de Bourg) for values, and I've found many in the past.  But you usually have to wade through a lot of wine that might be decent, but unimpressive.

Frequent readers know by now that the Minx tends toward the "A for Effort" review style - I love wine so much and respect the difficulty in the winemaking process so much that I go into it giving a handicap to anyone who has even managed to put a bottle in front of me.  I'm sure I will gain a firmer harshness as I age and become all crotchety.  So you probably notice that it is unusual for me to write with such a lack of enthusiasm.


There were a few wines that I did like very much.  (PHEW, right?!)  I mean, it's not a surprise that some producers will actually acheive a good level of success amidst their peers under similar circumstances.

So here are some wines that made the Minx very happy:

2009 Château Barrail Chevrol (~$15) This was one of the best values of the day.  A blend of 86% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Franc and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon, it had a dusty, earthy nose, with big red and black fruits on the palate, and an earthy finish.  The flavor components were balanced, as were the tannins; the Merlot added a nice soft roundness to the finish.

2009 Château Langoiran (~$18) 60% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Sauvignon, 15% Cabernet Franc: Nose of blueberries and cedar, soft and rich with nice fruit on the palate, pretty lush and quite balanced.

2009 Château de Malleret Le Baron de Malleret Cru Bourgeois (~$20) A rather soft nose, but the wine was spicy with a nice earthiness and wood intermingled with red fruit.  Good weight in the mouth, nice balance and length.

2008 Château Prieur de Meyney (~$25) This is the second label of Château Meyney, a very solid St.-Estèphe producer.  70% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Merlot, it had a soft, perfumey nose, with nice violet florals, licorice, and black berries.  It was very lush and yummy.

2009 Château de Cruzeau (~$27) 55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 43% Merlot, 2% Cabernet Franc.  Soft and round, drinking well now, nice red fruit, good weight, full mouthfeel, light tannins but a very good value for Bordeaux-lovers.

2008 Château Trimoulet (~$28) Another blend of the "usual suspects," Merlot, Cab Franc and Cab Sauv.  Lush red fruit, very heady nose, lots of cassis!  Black berries, bit of pepper, nice structure, drinkable now.

At the end of the day, the view was fantastic but now just a memory.  And many of the wines are now just a memory, but some were pretty fantastic.  In the end,
Non, rien de rien,
Je ne regrette rien!

If you are a Bordeaux fan trying to save a few bucks (or trying to simply find something you don't have to wait ten years to drink,) or someone new to drinking the wines of Bordeaux, these wines will surely satisfy!  I did the weeding out so you don't have to, that's my (wonderful) job.


Thursday, October 4, 2012


I have this weird "thing" with Amarone... I always forget how much I positively ADORE great Amarone until it's time to taste it again.  Maybe this is good - great Amarone is not cheap, and I am currently on a bit of a budget.  However, a recent tasting sponsored by Wine Spectator magazine may have catapulted Amarone back in my brain, this time for good. 

Amarone [Ah-mah-ROHN-ay]  is made in northeast Italy, in the Valpolicella region of Verona.  There is a small consortium of winemakers who have banded together as the "Amarone Families" in order to preserve the historical, family-oriented wine production in the region.  Certain other winemakers have sacrificed quality with over-production and trying to secure a lower price point for their wines, and the Amarone Families are working hard to preserve the quality and stature of Amarone in the world wine ideology.

They impose strict regulations on themselves beyond what is required by law, they encourage multiple generations of their own families to be involved, and they strive to make Amarone "with love, as an art," says Sandro Boscaini of Masi Agricola.

What makes Amarone special is the appassimento process; after harvest, the grapes are laid out to dry for many weeks or months before pressing, which concentrates the flavors immensely.  The primary grapes used in Amarone - Corvina, Rondinella and Molinara - are rarely found outside the region, with other indigenous grapes allowed in the blend.  There is somehow a perfect storm of factors which is impossible to replicate elsewhere; the grapes, the way they reflect their terroir, and how they are so perfectly suited to the drying process.  The resulting wine is bold, voluptuous, smooth yet with good acidity, and has the ability to age for 25-35 years or more.  And man, is it sexy.

For the tasting, we took a twenty-year journey back in time to the late 1980s, which is when Amarone really started showing up on the radar for American Wineaux.

Our first wine was the 2007 Brigaldara Amarone della Valpolicella Case Vecie DOC.  It had a heady floral perfume, with a strong nose of cherries.  On the palate, it was elegant and smooth, concentrated yet bright, with an incredibly long finish.  The fruit and integrated structure were so appealing, I wanted to drink the whole glass down!  ($95)

Next, we had the 2006 Musella Amarone della Valpolicella Riserva DOC.  With a nose of dried-cherry syrup and wet leaves, it had lots of structure and smooth tannins.  The flavors of dried fruit, spice, and an herby finish were quite strong, yet it remained smooth and elegant.  ($50)

The 2005 Tenuta Sant'Antonio Amarone della Valpolicella Campo dei Gigli DOC had loads of perfume and black cherry liqueur on the nose.  This wine was dense, rich, and smooth with mocha powder, light herbs, dried black cherry fruit and smooth tannins.  ($70)

Number four was the 2004 Begali Amarone della Valpolicella Classio Monte Cà Bianca DOC.  This showed sexy florals and herbs on the nose.  While somewhat lighter than the previous wines, it was incredibly smooth with strong lavender notes, and had firm tannins and good acidity. ($N/A)

Bottles of Amarone earmarked for the tasting.
From the extraordinarily hot summer of 2003, the 2003 Tedeschi Capitel Monte Olmi Amarone della Valpolicella Classico DOC had intoxicating mountain florals, rosemary and other herbs on the nose.  HUMONGOUS and dense, this was packed with lush, jammy red fruit.  Its subtle structure nonetheless stood up to such outrageous fruit components.  Yum. ($75 for present vintage.)

I also loved the 2001 Venturini Amarone della Valpolicella Classico DOC/DOP.  With a nose of cherries and an interesting lentil note, it was fresh, light, and fruity with very good acidity.  This easily quaffable wine had flavors of bright red cherries and raspberries, and had a friendly and charming personality.  For a wine with this age, it seemed quite youthful. ($N/A)

Our next wine came from a magnum - they have very few bottles left of this vintage - which presumably has helped it age so well.  The 2000 Nicolis "Ambrosan"Amarone della Valpolicella Classico DOC showed dried cherry liqueur and wet leaves on the nose.  It was luxurious in the mouth, with some herbs and dried flowers, yet still quite bright fruit.  "Soooo silky/sexy!" I wrote.  ($110 bt/$225 mag.)

If I had to choose a favorite, it might be the 1998 Zenato Amarone della Valpolicella Classico Riserva Sergio Zenato DOC.  Strong nose of wet leaves and cigar leaf, bit of meatiness, licorice and herbs.  The mouth was a bowlful of black fruits, with some mushroom and licorice.  There were so many complex elements, and it was incredibly robust with a long, balanced finish. ($N/A)  Mr. Alberto Zenato suggested pairing it with a pumpkin risotto, and I almost started drooling.

Or maybe my favorite was the 1997 Tommasi Amarone della Valpolicella Classico DOC.  It had notes of charcoal and blackberry liqueur on the nose, and the palate of dense, dark berries was outrageously smooth, like a silk robe, with a long, soft finish.  I did indeed write, "This wine is turning me on!" while peeking at my neighbors to see if they were getting flushed as well.  (Not likely available, but ~$150)

From one of the best Amarone vintages of the century, the 1995 Allegrini Amarone della Valpolicella Classico DOC showed strong wet leaves on the nose.  It was light, though velvety and elegant.  There still was good fruit, though minerally notes were starting to show.  An incredibly long finish with nice earthy structure.  ($NA)

Another classic vintage was 1990, and the 1990 Masi Agricola Mazzano Amarone della Valpolicella Classico DOC was exactly what I expected from a stellar aged Amarone.  Nose of earth, leaves, prune, some barnyard and forest floor.  On the mouth, meaty and leather notes, plus some serious truffle.  Powerful yet elegant with a smooth, long finish.  ($300)

Finally (and boy, I didn't want this to end!) we had the 1988 Speri Amarone della Valpolicella Classico Vigneto Monte Sant'Urbano DOC.  Those great aged notes of mushroom, earth, dried figs and truffle.  In the mouth, still great cherry fruit expression, with dried salami, licorice and chocolate.  Super silky and still feels very bright.  ($300)

After the tasting, the Amarone Families producers poured a number of recent vintages for us to sample as well.  I went through my notes looking for "yum"s to share some favorites:
2007 Begali Amarone della Valpolicella Classico Monte Cà Biance DOC - pine-y, floral, herbs nose, very berry and bright, yum. ($50)
2007 Nicolis Amarone della Valpolicella Classico DOC - bright red fruit, yummy!  Good balance, dense but quaffable.  ($45)
2007 Speri Amarone della Valpolicella Classico Vigneto Monte Sant'Urbano DOC - heady perfume of florals and berry fruits, stemmy, herby, dense and robust, pretty tannic.  Yum. ($65)
2006 Tenuta Sant'Antonio Amarone della Valpolicella 'Campo dei Gigli' DOC - mushroom, licorice, red fruit and florals on the nose... very smooth and dense, lots of robust fruit, big but soft.  Yum. ($45)
2001 Tommasi Ca'Florian Amarone della Valpolicella Classico DOC - mushroom, merde nose, light, elegant, soft red fruit, great length and balance.  Lovely.  ($50)

These Amarones were rich and smooth, and drinkable and well-structured, a kind of contradiction that might not make a lot of sense.  But I can tell you, it is worth it to seek out wines from the Amarone Families.  For more information about their wines, visit  By the way, all member-produced wines will have this logo somewhere on the capsule or label:
Once you've sampled these luxurious and sensual wines, you might agree with me that Amarone is, quite possibly, the sexiest wine ever.  Cheers!

Saturday, June 9, 2012


Wineaux, forgive my radio silence... sometimes being fortunate enough to have two amazing jobs pulls my focus from one now and then.  I have copious notes for three other pieces, but a fantastic tasting this past week reminded me of something I have to share with you right now, immediately, this moment:

Portugal ain't just for Port anymore.

Portugese table wines are becoming more familiar to Americans, but I say not nearly fast enough!  Yes, the grapes are impossible to pronounce, and there are 250 of them, and you're having enough fun drinking through France and Australia and the US so this is majorly uncharted territory for most of you.


Two words: FLAVOR and VALUE.

You should have gotten that from the title, but it really bears repeating.  There is a little something for every palate from this country as well - refreshing whites, tangy rosés, bold reds, and most of these wines are generally available under $20.

First of all, like our dear friend Italy, wine is made from top to tail in this country.  The three major styles of climate all come into play - the Atlantic Ocean is a big influence in the North (cool winds and lots of rain), from the East there's the Continental clime (big temperature swings from day to night and low to moderate rain) and in the South we have textbook Mediterranean - hot, dry summers and mild winters.  So as the conditions for growing grapes vary, so do the grapes that grow vary!

Slightly fuzzy map of Portugal - which is "hugged" by Spain, if you remember Elementary School Geography.
Although there are about 250 mostly indigenous varieties of grapes growing and making wine in Portugal, there are a few main ones you should meet:

ALVARINHO: yes, the same as Albariño from Spain! - also similar to dry Riesling or Pinot Gris/Grigio with some oomph.
ARINTO: also like dry Riesling, as well as Pinot Blanc or dry Chenin Blanc.
ENCRUZADO: close to Chardonnay à la Burgundy, or Vermentino.
FERNÃO PIRES: more aromatic, straw and herby like Rousanne, Viognier, Torrontés.
LOUREIRO: super light and refreshing like Grüner Veltliner and Pinot Blanc.

BAGA: acidic and earthy like Nebbiolo or some Pinot Noirs.
CASTELÃO: meaty and intense like Cabernet Franc or Rioja's Tempranillo.
TINTA RORIZ: the same as Spain's Tempranillo, a grape of many names.
TOURIGA FRANCA: primarily blending grape, mostly like Malbec or Merlot.
TOURIGA NACIONAL: also good to blend, but on its own like Cabernet Sauvignon or Syrah.

See what I mean about the array?!  In addition, most of these grapes are blended together per the winemaker's desire, so it is less common to find a 100% varietal wine.  Often, international varieties like Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon are also introduced into the blend.

Due to the multiple diverse and hard-to-pronounce region names, and indigenous grape varieties and their blends, it's hard to categorize these wines simply and you may have to just trust your local wine retailer or sommelier for recommendations.  But for a jumping-off point, here are some tasting notes!

OS BRANCOS (the whites):
2011 Aveleda Alvarinho Vinho Regional Minho: Concentrated but crisp, warm melon, minerality.  Nice acidity, hint of shpritz, flavorful and supremely quaffable. 100% Alvarinho. ~$12

2011 J. Portugal Ramos Vinhos Loios: Green and grassy but nice yellow apple and melon with good acidity. ~$9

2011 Cortes de Cima Chaminé White: Bit of baked apple, grass, florals, integrated acidity, oak.  Chardonnay lovers must try this for ~$9

2010 Herdade da Comporta White: Very aromatic.  Not too acidic, great round peach notes.  I would recommend this to a LOT of my clients who want a light but not overly acidic white with character. ~$12

ROSA (rosé):
2011 Heredade do Esporão, Defesa Rosé: Neon pinky! Minerality, berries, bit of meatiness.  A lot of depth of flavor.  Just fantastic!  I could drink this all day.  ~$13 [NB: I went out and bought 4 bottles the next day and have already finished one!  Yum.]

OS TINTOS (the reds):
2009 José Maria da Fonseca Perequita, Vinho Regional Peninsula de Setúbal: Tight blueberry and cherry notes.  Pretty dense but lighter in style, good summer red.  Good acidity, hint of tannin.  Widely available.  Fantastic value. ~$9

2007 Herdade da Comporta Red: Lots of lavender!  Light but very sexy.  Aromatics draw you back again and again. ~$16

2008 Parus Vinho Regional Peninsula de Setúbal: Minerality, tart berries.  Super dense!  Incredible purity of fruit.  Velvety licorice.  Mouth-painting tannins but they're integrated.  Powerful but not flashy.  Wow.  A little pricier but worth it. ~$35

2009 Cortes de Cima Red: Dark fruits, good integrated tannins, rich and full but velvety.  Very nice - needs food!  Unbelievable value at ~$9

2009 Wine & Soul Pintas: The exception to the rule, this wine is quite expensive.  BUT within reason - it's a field blend (meaning the many indigenous grapes have been growing all together for decades) from a single vineyard of 80-year old vines with a tiny production.  WOW.  Knockout.  Layers upon layers of fruit.  Tannic but beautifully balanced.  Velvety.  Sophisticated.  Amazing.  ~$95

PARA SOBREMESA (for dessert):
2005 Bacalhôa Moscatel de Setúbal: This fortified dessert-style wine is orangey-brown with notes of caramelized apricots, nutmeg, orange peel and typical Muscat (= Moscatel = Moscato) "grapey" aroma.  OH YEAH.  YUM.  Decent acidity.  Unusual to age Moscatel in barrel, but it adds character.  ~$NA

2006 Dow's Late Bottled Vintage Porto: The focus here has been primarily on table wines, but LBV ports are really fantastic values.  Eucalyptus, moss, licorice, dark fruits.  Smooth and very approachable.  Doesn't overwhelm, although it is higher in alcohol due to fortification. ~$20

Wineaux, get yourselves immediately to the Portugal section of your wine shop or wine bar menu.  Even with the complexity of offerings, you can afford to try a number of different wines on the way to discovering something you will truly love!  And your wallet will thank you.

Saturday, March 10, 2012


I was recently reminded that many Wineaux, myself included, harbor subconscious prejudices about what to drink at what time of year:

Winter = oaky Chardonnay or Zinfandel...

Summer = Grüner Veltliner or rosé...

And we don't even imagine mixing it up, unless there's, say, a fancy food-and-wine pairing going on.

Well, I was feeling heavenly after discovering a lovely wine shop here on the outskirts of Indianapolis (where the grocery store does carry some decent offerings, but not with much variety) - Kahn's Fine Wines. I was perusing the aisles gathering information for a wine class I'll be holding for members of the "Legally Blonde" cast I'm in, and the helpful clerk asked if there was anything else I needed.

As I often do, I said, "Tell me the strangest, weirdest wine that made you go 'woah' when you tasted it, maybe an unusual expression of the variety, or a hidden gem, at about twenty bucks."

"Any variety?  Any region?"

"Yep.  Just the first wine that jumped into your mind when I asked."

We were standing in the France section, and he reached down to a box at his feet and picked up a Chinon.  "Ah, Cab Franc!" I said.

"This is great.  Not necessarily for everyone, but I love it.  And, as a matter of fact, this is pretty amazing too..."  And he picked up a Savennières from a neighboring box.

"The Loire..." I said, and then it struck me - I typically don't drink wines from the expansive Loire valley of France in winter.  I think of its Muscadet and Chenin Blanc, steely Sauvignon Blancs and tangy Cabernet Francs as wines to be enjoyed in the heat of summer, not the bitter chill of winter.  But I took the wines on his recommendation and was so glad I did.

The 2008 Domaine Laffourcade Savennières was unctuous and rich with lovely notes of melon and taffy, beautifully balanced with a good length.  $19.99

The 2010 Béatrice et Pascal Lambert Chinon Les Terraces was tangy with bright red and black berries, a hint of earth, and undertones of dark chocolate and espresso.  It had a lot of acidity, but the length went on for ages. $24.99

As I was reminded, I will remind you: don't pigeonhole your wines according to season!! You will miss out on enjoying some amazing vino for half of the year.  And I will also remind you: constantly ask your merchants and bartenders for something different, something unusual.  You may be reacquainted with an old favorite or have your mind blown with something new.  All wonderful stops on the journey of being a Wineaux!  Cheers.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Party Whites - Worth It?

The purpose of this blog is to educate my readers, to introduce them to new varieties, regions and trends, and to foster a desire for exploration of the world of wine. And occasionally, I learn something I wasn't expecting to as well!

Many Wineaux begin drinking wine at the very "beginning", say from the shelf of inexpensive magnums in the grocery store.  Last night I was reminded that this is not necessarily a bad place to start, and can be quite informative.

At the behest of a fine-wine drinking client, I bought 5 magnums of inexpensive, widely-available Chardonnay to taste and find the "best" example in the category that I could recommend for his use at a party.

I will remind you that 5 magnums is equivalent to 10 bottles, or almost an entire case of wine. Far be it from me to waste a drop of vino, so I invited company members from a show I'm doing in Indianapolis to also sample and weigh in on their own favorites. Actors are locust-like when it comes to free food, let alone free booze, especially at the end of a long week before a day off!

We began alphabetically with the 2010 Fetzer ($11.99), which was the most acidic of the group, and ultimately not a favorite because of that unbalanced component.  Our second wine, the 2009 Frontera from Chile, at $8.99 was the least expensive of the tasting and ended up being the group's top pick. It had good citrus and floral notes and a decently balanced finish.

The next two wines were similar in a few ways; both were value offerings from established Napa wineries and both showed some oak influence, giving the wines a rounder, warmer feel. While extremely similar in taste, the 2010 Stone Cellars by Beringer ($11.99) was edged out by the 2010 Woodbridge by Robert Mondavi ($12.99), which had slightly more distinctive components and 
was the overall second favorite wine of the tasting

Finally, the NV Yellowtail Chardonnay from Australia ($11.49) was the group's least favorite, as it was flabby and unstructured with minor fruit expression.

In general, all of these wines lacked much personality and would not generate excitement for most discerning Wineaux. However, the top three were perfectly acceptably quaffable wines, and the Frontera was an especially good find to have for a casual party.

In the interest of full disclosure, it should be noted that every single bottle was drained dry by the end of the evening! (See above comment re. actors.) And it was gratifying that I was still able to share some education with the group even with these entry-level examples.

I try not to judge people's wine preferences - only attempt to show them what wonderful possibilities exist out there. So I am very glad I had this unexpected opportunity to reacquaint myself with wines that an enormous number of people drink every day.  I just hope that all Wineaux continue to look for quality at every price point.

All that being said, my palate was patient last night, so I'm off to find a little something special to reward it!

Wednesday, January 4, 2012


The New Year has arrived, and with it, scores of resolutions: to lose weight, quit smoking, be nicer to people, blah, blah, blah.  The Minx asks you - what of your WINE resolutions, Wineaux?

In order to enhance and amplify your wine drinking over the next year, here are a few suggestions of wine-related resolutions.  Read them, become inspired, and follow.  You may get to the gym for a week or so but these will be much more fun to stick to over the long haul!

Wine Resolution No. 1:
Try a grape variety you've never heard of before.
For example: Agiorgitiko (R,) Blaufränkisch (R,) Cortese (W,) Furmint (W,) Gouveio (W,) Mencía (R,) Sagrantino (R,) Touriga Franca (R,) Verdejo (W).  Many indigenous grapes from around the world are getting a wider exhibition, and advances in winemaking techniques definitely help in showing some of these interesting varieties in their best light.

Wine Resolution No. 2:
Try a region you've never heard of before.
Goes hand in hand with the above.  If you're not familiar with the wines from Greece, Austria, Hungary, the Basque region of Spain, Portuguese table wines, Italian regions other than Tuscany, Piedmont and Veneto, etc. etc. and so on: get out an atlas and get tasting!

Wine Resolution No. 3: 
Learn about wine faults.
Beginning Wineaux MUST learn to differentiate between a wine they don't like and a wine that has something wrong with it.  Two of the most common faults encountered are a wine that is "corked" and a wine that has oxidized from being open too long.  A corked wine will have a musty, wet dog odor blanketing the wine's natural aromas.  Because this effect is related to the bleaching process of the cork itself, it can happen in ANY wine stopped with a natural cork.   An oxidized wine will taste burnt or "flat" or even astringent.  If you have a question about a possible fault, consult with your server.  And now, see the following:

Wine Resolution No. 4:
Demand more from your wine bars.
If I ask for a glass of wine in a die-hard Irish pub, say, I suspect I am going to get a cheapo glass of plonk that has probably been sitting open for a week.  But if I am in a self-proclaimed wine bar or restaurant with a decent wine list, I expect there to be a certain level of knowledge and service, and so should you.  I have had numerous experiences where I practically had a Wild West show-down over a corked wine.  Either the server didn't know or didn't agree with me, but they left a sour taste in the mouth in more ways than one.  However, I also have had many pleasant experiences where my question about freshness of a wine by the glass was met with an offer to open a brand new bottle straightaway.  Wineaux, educate yourselves.  If you don't like a wine, offer to pay for it and order something different.  If there is something wrong with it, be confident to order a different bottle of the same wine or something else and, with courtesy, demand good customer service.  It goes both ways.

Wine Resolution No. 5: 
Take a class.
From me, from a local wine shop, from a wine bar... just take one.  Or six.  A class is a perfect environment to sample numerous wines with other people looking to expand their experiences.  You may find a new variety you love or new depth in a variety you already know.  Or exciting wines from an unfamiliar region.  (See how this all ties together?)  Sometimes I even have a corked and an oxidized wine on hand in my class to really get you good and educated!

It goes without saying that classes really help you fine-tune your palate.  If you learn what you like best in a wine - dry, grassy, floral whites, or maybe bold, spicy, fruit-forward reds - any server or wine shop clerk worth his or her salt will be able to communicate with you and take your enjoyment of wine to the next level.

Members of the Nat'l Tour of "Mamma
Mia!" at Franciscan in Napa.
Wine Resolution No. 6:
Visit a winery.
Even if you have no idea what malolactic fermentation or cap management techniques are, getting an inside peek at the process of winemaking is a perfect way to help you understand more about what ends up in the glass.  And usually a tour is followed by a tasting!  There are quality wine regions all over the country, including pockets in some surprising places like Virginia, New Mexico and Texas, if you can't get to California or upstate New York.

What it all boils down to is this: resolve to expand your experience of wine and you will be rewarded with the vast array of wines the world has to offer!  More than any other beverage, wine offers a social connection.  Enjoy it (responsibly) and reap the benefits!  Cheers and Happy New Year!

[Want one more resolution?  Support the Wine Minx by telling all your friends to join this blog, like "Wine Minx" on facebook and follow @WineMinxAnnie in the tweetosphere!]