Monday, December 23, 2013

TOP WINES UNDER $20 of 2013!!!

Wineaux, those of you with a lot of attention to detail will immediately notice the title of this post doesn't gibe with past years'... normally you'd expect to see "TOP 20 UNDER $20".  Well, even in good drinking years, I often have difficulty finding twenty wines that fit my criteria.  This year I didn't even come close.  It's not for a lack of good value wines out there, so why?  A few reasons: 

A) The Minx is not a world-famous wine critic who is sent myriad bottles to taste and review.  (YET.)

B) My performance and other work schedules kept me away from many industry tastings where I can sample hundreds of wines so to better serve YOU, my readers.

C) My performance and other work schedules and travels kept me from staying in one place longer than three months at a time, which interestingly ended up being a factor, although some of my globe-trotting discoveries certainly made the list.

However, I still unearthed some gemmy-gem-gems for you, never fear!  Lucky-number THIRTEEN world-wide wines that will give you an incredible bang-for-the-buck.  (And now my hyphen usage has exceeded its limit.)  Let's get to it!

 #13 - 2012 Benefactor Cellars Shiraz, South Eastern Australia.  (Imported by Trader Joe's, and pretty much only found there!) A solid offering, with balanced fruit and Shiraz's typical peppery spice, very quaffable, and a perfect party wine for only $6.

#12 - 2010 Anselmi San Vincenzo, Veneto Northern Italy, 80% Garganega, 10% Chardonnay, and 10% Sauvignon Blanc.  (A little something for everyone.)  Can you say FLORAL AROMATICS? I knew you could. Good citrus, yellow apple and minerals with medium weight and a balanced finish, yum. $13

#11 - 2012 José Maria da Fonseca Periquita White, Setúbal Peninsula, Portugal.  Pale gold color, with straw and light tropical fruits on the nose.  Nice fruit expression with citrus on the finish but not overly acidic.  Great on its own or with appetizers or shellfish.  Blend of Verdelho, Moscatel de Setúbal, Viosinho and Viognier.  $10

#10 - 2012 Anthony Nappa "Bordo," North Fork, LI.  100% Cabernet Franc.  Lightish ruby color, nose of macerated raspberries, tomato stem, smoke.  Very juicy and bright with balanced earthy elements on finish.  A little odd (which I do like) but definitely interesting!  A lot going on but lighter in style.  $19.99

#9 - 2011 Quinta do Passadouro Tinto, Douro, Portugal.  Had this beauty in my fave Lisboa wine bar.  Scrumptious berry salad on nose, with robust and velvety fruit mid-palate, violets, and integrated tannins and acid. 40% Touriga Nacional,  25% Touriga Franca, 25% Tinta Roriz and 10% "??" (= field blend unknowns!)  $13

#8 - 2008 Edward Sellers "Mayhem" Red, Paso Robles, CA.  Ample velvety red and black fruit.  Pretty lush but not overly-structured.  If you like them big and fleshy and soft, this is your gal, and she's a keeper! I got it for $12

#7 - 2012 Cloudline Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, OR.  Definitely a New World Pinot, but with some Old World finesse; aromatic berries, herbs, medium weight, and lovely fruit and pepper. $16

 #6 -  2012 Dalton Winery Rosé, Israel.  Blend of Barbera, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah.  I was very impressed with what I saw coming out of Israel, and this had an unusual yet wow-nose of floral perfume with good acidity - generally very yummy with great fruit and great length.  $17

#5 - 2009 Kayra Vintage Öküzgözü Single Vineyard, Turkey. ("Euh-KUHz-guh-zuh" basically.) One of my finds from my new fave wine region, Turkey, this powerhouse has dark berries and smoke on the nose, and is complex yet velvety and rich with good structure.  $19.99 (just made the cutoff!)

#4 - 2011 Catena Malbec, Argentina. A LOT of people really like this wine (critics and drinkers alike,) and it's no wonder.  It has a heady nose of berry jam and a whiff of smoke, with dense and velvety berries, herbs, a little coffee and sweet oak notes on the palate.  Excellent value for the price. $16

#3 - 2011 Channing Daughters Scuttlehole Chardonnay, Long Island, NY. Intense but not clunky; notes of Meyer lemon and toast with great acidity.  Yum!  Especially for you ABC-ers, (Anything But Chardonnay,) it's definitely worth a try, you may change your mind with this one.  $15

Montefino is on the left, but the Penha was lovely too.
#2 - 2005 Montefino Tinto, Alentejo Portugal.  Trincadeira, Aragonez (Tempranillo), Alicante Bouschet & Touriga Nacional - another excellent find from Portugal.  Dark ruby, smoked meat on the nose with a feel of its age and time in oak.  WOW!  It's sexy, velvety and complex yet very, very bright with good acidity.  In a nutshell, it feels pedigreed yet quaffable. $18


EGEO ROZE on the Right...

#1 - 2012 Kavaklidere Egeo Roze (rosé), Anatolya, Turkey.  A blend of 60% Çal Karası and 40% Grenache, it had a pale color of salmon/ onion skin.  The nose was warm, of light tart cherry fruit and minerals.  It was very, very dry, with lots of acidity but not too bracing, and fruit that went on and on, with rose petal and geranium florals and a bit of salinity. $17
Once again I was pleased with the variety of regions, grapes and styles of wines.  There definitely is something for everyone, and you can't beat the price to try something new!  Let me know if you come across these and what you think... and DEFINITELY let me know if you have a favorite <$20 wine the Minx shouldn't miss!  Cheers.

Friday, November 22, 2013


As many of you know, the Minx is also a performer on the stage, and I often get called away to gigs all over the country.  For the past few months, I have been holed up in NW Indianapolis bringing a little comic relief to the drama of "Les Misèrables" eight shows a week.  But that doesn't mean I've forgotten about wine!  Far from it.  I have scoured the local Trader Joe's for sub-$8 finds, I have wandered the rows of Kahn's Fine Wine superstore, caressing bottles as if they were long-lost friends, and I've even visited a winery or two.

Wait, go back a sec - a WINERY?  In Indiana?

You may know that wine is indeed made in every one of the 50 states.  Not all of it is excellent by any means, but as consumer demand rises, more and more "outpost" winemakers want to showcase good product.

I performed in "9 to 5" the musical at this same theatre earlier this year, and right after I arrived for rehearsal, Indiana was granted its own AVA (American Viticultural Area designation.)  I was excited to celebrate with some local wine, but there are still some obstacles before Indiana is recognized as a top-tier winemaking state.

In fact, it may never be; California, New York and the Pacific NW are the historically good areas for US winemaking precisely because their climate, land conditions and proximity to large bodies of water make them the best places to grow wine.  Other states like Virginia, Texas and New Mexico are overcoming geographical obstacles to produce quality wines, but perhaps this particular midwestern state may never get a competitive boost.

That being said, there are a number of wineries in the Indianapolis vicinity, as well as numerous more in the southern part of the state.  They are cultivating international varieties like Merlot and Syrah, but also working with hybrid grapes (a mating of wine grapes - vitis vinifera - and heartier 'regular' grapes from another vitis species) to some success.

One lovely fall afternoon my roommate Stephanie and I swung by Mallow Run winery, located in Bargersville, IN, about 30 minutes southwest of Indianapolis, where they offer a generous sampling of wine to taste.  During our visit, they were pouring from 21 different options.

The property of Mallow Run has been family run for 150 years, although the vineyards were only planted about 13 years ago.  There is a lovely tasting room, and visitors can even buy a glass or bottle of wine and picnic inside or on the grounds.

Stephanie began with the 2011 Mallow Run Seyval Blanc (a hybrid white grape), which was very pale with a 'green' nose, and was simple, clean with light acid.  She found it very appealing. $11

I tried the 2010 Mallow Run Estate Chardonel (another hybrid, much like Chardonnay - the name similarity is no accident!)  It was one of my top picks, with a buttery nose, firm acidity of tart lemon, very dry with a nice body. $17

The 2011 Mallow Run Rosé of Chambourcin (you guessed it, another hybrid) was the color of very pale onion skin.  It didn't have a very expressive nose, but was slightly off-dry, with flavors of strawberry, cherry and some herbs on the finish.  $14

Similar in style to a Pinot Noir, the 2011 Mallow Run Chambourcin had a medium brick-y color, with a smoky nose, and flavors of dried cherries and pepper.  Very pleasant.  $17.

Stephanie thrust her 2011 Mallow Run Syrah under my nose, and I got why right away; there was a ton of floral perfume!  In the mouth, the rose and violets shone through, with spice and pepper and a hint of blackberry liqueur, although this was very light in style.  $19

Another personal favorite was the 2010 Mallow Run Merlot with a somewhat pale garnet color, it had a vegetative nose, but the lush fruit balanced that out.  It was very approachable, with lots of blackberry and blueberry fruit, a hint of oak, and light tannins.  Complex but quaffable.  $19

The 2010 Mallow Run Zinfandel was a medium ruby color, with a tantalizing smoky meatiness on the nose, and plum and dark berries in the mouth.  However, it was a little unbalanced for my taste, with lighter flavors and a bit too much acid; a victim of the growing locale, I expect. $19

Finally, another fave, the 2011 Mallow Run Cabernet Sauvignon.  It had a medium dark ruby color, with tons of berry fruit on the nose.  In the mouth, black fruits and toasty oak were complimented by a smooth tannic structure.  Velvety and dense.  $19

All in all the offerings we tasted at Mallow Run were solid and many were interesting.  I did buy a couple of bottles for later!  And Stephanie and I each chose a glass and grabbed a fruit and cheese plate and enjoyed a gorgeous afternoon in the farmlands of Indiana.

One tricky post-script: with the exception of the off-dry rosé, we didn't try any of the sweeter-styled wines that day.  Actually, the sweet offerings outnumber the dry ones, and it's due to the fact that some of these hybrid and other non-vitis vinifera grapes perform better with natural residual sugar.  But also, the midwestern palate seems almost stubbornly attached to sweet-style table wines; Mallow Run's best seller is their "Rhubarb" wine.  I can't expect a winery to cease production of their most popular products in order to adhere to my desire that traditional wines from unusual locales get the boost they need.  But at the very least, there's something for everyone!

So don't be afraid to go out into the wilds and sample some wines from less-common locales.  You may discover something unexpected!  Cheers.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013


My little map of Crete!

We've seen a rise in quality wine from other parts of Greece and from my new fave winemaking locale, Turkey, so it's no wonder that the Mediterranean island of Crete is getting in on the action.

Is Crete possibly even the birthplace of wine?  Well, there is historical evidence of winemaking as far back as 4000BC, which certainly stamps it as one of the globe's earliest winemaking areas.  Cretan winemaking flourished under Venetian rule in the 1400s but when the island was conquered by the Ottomans in 1669 its wine production decreased.  There was a spark of vino-resurgence with the Greek annexation in 1913… but Greece was a little too unstable at the time, so Cretan winemaking didn’t really start to revive until mid-last-century.  

Now Crete is gaining prominence with careful attention to quality control and the advancement of legal regulations.  Modern winemakers in Crete are actively looking to make quaffable wines which appeal to global consumers across the board. 

As with other parts of Greece and Turkey, however, some of these indigenous grapes are unfamiliar to the rest of the world, are hard to pronounce for English-speakers, and are often written on the label in Greek lettering.  It is my hope that with time we'll see some of those barriers come down and the path toward enjoyment of Cretan wines will clear.

To get you started, these are the main white varieties of Crete: (* indicates most prominent)
Vidiano*, Vilana*, Plyto, Dafni, Thrapsathiri, Muscat Spina and Malvazia - and the main local red varieties are: Kotsifali*, Liatkio, Mandilari* and Romeiko.

There are good plantings of international varieties too: Sauvignon Blanc, Roussilon and Chardonnay for the whites, and Syrah, Mourvèdre, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot for reds.

At a recent tasting sponsored by Wines of Crete, I was able to sample some lovely wines that are now being brought into the States.

2009 Alexakis Winery Syrah Kotsifali 
40% Syrah, 60% Kotsifali.  Berry nose, rich in flavor but laser-like clean.  Good balance and finish with a decent structure. ~$15

2009 Boutari Skalani Red
50% Syrah, 50% Kotsifali.  Bright and earthy too. Perhaps a little fumbly but very pleasant fruit and spice. ~$40

2008 Winery Diamantakis Diamond Rock Red
Syrah and Mandilari.  Very nice, smooth and flavorful, great length.  Berries and spice, with a light but good structure. ~$20

2012 Doyloyfaknis Oinopoieio Winery Femina White
Malvasia di Candia.  Aromatics!  Florals and tropical fruit, with a little CO2 'shpritz,' super light, great for summer, not too crisp. ~$15

2012 Douloufakis Winery Vidiano Dafnios
Chardonnay-like, light in style, with notes of lemon, yellow apple and hay. ~$13

2012 Manousakis Winery Nostos Roussanne White
Nose of straw and lemon zest.  Good length, nice body.  Lip-smacking melon in the mouth, very nice. ~$22

2007 Manousakis Winery Nostos Blend Red
Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre, Roussanne  (My notes indicate this winery uses 100% Rhône varietals.) Tightly packed berries, some earth/woody elements, long finish, nice structure. ~$23

Although these next two producers don't yet have importers or distributors, I also really enjoyed a few of their wines:

2012 Anoskeli Winery Ano Rosé
Super strawberry nose, loads of fruit, nice length, hint of tannin, very nice.

2012 Nikos Gavalas Efivos White
Spinas Muscat and Sauvignon Blanc.
Bit of grassiness with good floral compliment, mouth-watering, not too acidic, a little tropical fruit – banana! Flavorful.

Ultimately, some of the wines I sampled over the course of the tasting were not terribly complex or interesting, but the wines listed above were certainly user-friendly and quaffable.  Keep on the lookout for wines of Crete as the quality will certainly continue to rise!  Cheers.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013


The Minx is finding this a banner summer for exploring less-familiar wine regions: first Turkey, now Israel! You, dear reader, may already be acquainted with quality wines from Israel... but the majority of Wineaux are not, and there are a few reasons for this.

First of all, Israel lacks a defining grape or signature region that jumps out to make an easy association.

Unlike, say, the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon (which is known for growing Cabernet Sauvignon with an identifiable terroir tang,) Israel's wine regions grow many international varieties well.  Both Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc thrive, along with Riesling, Viognier and Gewürztraminer for the whites.  For reds, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah all produce many quality wines, and there is increased experimentation with Carignan and Petite Sirah.  In addition, a few indigenous grapes like Argaman (cross of Carignan and Portugal's Souzao) and Emerald Riesling round out the wide array.  Not to mention, wine is grown in nine major spots, from the northern Golan Heights region all the way south to the Negev, in a country roughly the size of New Jersey.

Israel also does not have to adhere to wine laws like many other countries in terms of appellation rules, so they are free to experiment in their vineyards.  While this is potentially a positive situation, it adds to the muddle.  Luckily, advances in technology are helping overall quality rise, so Israeli winemakers are starting to work towards defining a clearer Israeli wine identity.

But... they are also fighting "the 'K' word."

People often associate Israeli wines with lower-quality kosher offerings, which couldn't be farther from reality.  Not all Israeli wine is kosher, in fact, 80-90% of local winemakers are not even Sabbath observant. Winemakers from Israel will tell you that the biggest challenge they face is getting their wines out of the kosher section of the wine store... into the WINE section.  While Israel arguably makes the highest-quality kosher wines out there, detaching the labeling from the wine's level of excellence is another hurdle.

Israel is ripe for becoming a major player in the international wine arena, even with these obstacles.  There are many boutique wineries and self-trained winemakers, they don't hesitate to bring in experienced foreigners or send their youngsters out for training, they are looking to reduce yields for higher quality and they are experimenting with interesting blends.

Perhaps out of all of this, Israel's wine identity will start to take a sharper focus.  Until then, keep your eyes out for some of the following amazing Israeli wines and ponder Israel's wine identity for yourself!

2009 Barkan Wine Cellars Altitude +720
100% Cabernet Sauvignon; Galilee.  Great fruit and cedar nose, intoxicating, chewy, cheeky, approachable. ~$46

2011 Carmel Winery Kayoumi White Riesling
Galilee.  Water-white color, honeysuckle, hint of petrol.  Light acid, great character.  Yum! ~$24

2009 Carmel Winery Mediterranean
27% Carignan, 27% Shiraz, 27% Petit Verdot, 15% Petite Sirah, 3% Malbec, 1% Viognier; Galilee. Earth and spice.  Very, very soft finish with good fruit.  Quaffable.  ~$50

2009 Carmel Winery Sha'al Gewürztraminer
Galilee.  Single vineyard, late harvest - spice, florals, not overly sweet, good acid... great for food pairing!  ~$22/375ml

2012 Dalton Winery Rosé
Blend of Barbera, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah.  Unusual wow-nose of floral perfume.  Good acidity. Very yummy - great fruit, great length. ~$17
My notes are for the '10 - the
'11 is becoming available too.

2010 Dalton Winery Petite Sirah
Incredible nose!  Very dense; licorice, charcoal, blueberry liqueur.  Very, very nice. ~$22

2010 Domaine du Castel Grand Vin
Blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Petit Verdot; Judean Hills.  Cedar, earth, cassis.  Mouth-painting with lovely violet and red fruit notes.  Mmmmm.  ~$65

2007 Ella Valley Vineyards Merlot
Merlot with some Cabernet Sauvignon; Judean Hills.  Oak, dirt, terroir, little funk.  Soft tannins, though grippy in mouth.  Bright fruit, good structure. ~$30

2010 Flam Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Reserve
85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Merlot, 6% Cabernet Franc, 3% Petit Verdot; Upper Galilee.  Earth, cherry-berry.  Loads going on!  Well-structured, great length and fruit.  ~$59

2010 Galil Mountain Winery Pinot Noir
Upper Galilee.  Very light in color.  Earthy nose, quite interesting with good elements but very lightly styled.  ~$20

2008 Golan Heights Winery Yarden Pinot Noir
Northern Golan Heights. Lots of floral perfume and earth.  Chewy fruit.  Very nice.  ~$16

2010 Gvaot Winery Herodion Cabernet Sauvignon
92% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Merlot; Shomron.  Bright berry color.  Nice round fruit, some earthiness, good acid.  Very pleasant wine.  ~$40

2005 Hevron Heights Winery Jerusalem Heights
Pretty even Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot blend; Judean Hills.  Terroir, red cherry juice! Fairly soft and light but quaffable with supple tannins.  ~$33

2011 Recanati Winery Ltd. Carignan
Upper Galilee.  Pungent nose - loads of red and black fruits.  Nice florals on finish.  Very good!  And tasty - it keeps drawing you back.  ~$48

2009 Carmei Zvi Segal Bros. Segal's Single Vineyard Dovev Argaman
100% Argaman; Galilee.  I sought out this 'indigenous' grape to try it; this was earthy with lavender florals and black fruits.  Somewhat one-dimensional in the mouth, but brightly styled and interesting.  ~$36

2012 Teperberg Winery 1870 Terra Sauvignon Blanc
Shomron.  Grassy with tropical fruit, great acid, very nice elements and good length.  ~$18

2010 Teperberg Winery 1870 Terra Malbec
Judean Hills.  1st Malbec in Israel, I believe - very dark berries on the nose.  Soft and smooth.  Good for people who like lighter-styled wines with a rich flavor. ~$31

2010 Tzora Vineyards Misty Hills
55% Cabernet Sauvignon, 45% Syrah; Judean Hills.  Loads of cedar and cassis.  Spicy, a bit harsh in the mouth - needs food and/or a little time.  ~$60

A huge thank you to "Wines of Israel - Mediterranean Inspiration" for hosting a mini-wine tour, a discussion of modern Israeli winemaking with Josh Wesson and Alex Haruni, and a walk-around tasting.   My eyes were certainly opened, and I hope you venture out to try some wonderful Israeli wines soon. Cheers!

Thursday, July 25, 2013


This past May, my Wineau friend Carol and I somewhat randomly chose the beautiful country of Turkey as a tandem vacation destination.

Normally when making international travel plans, I would opt for places with storied wine regions I have yet to visit, like South Africa, Chile and New Zealand.  But the travel package to Turkey was too great to pass up, so I said, "Well, they probably make at least some wine in Turkey, right?"

How was I to know... they make some gosh darn amazing wine in Turkey!

(And the word for wine - şarap - is easy, just say "shut up" quickly. Ha!)

Now, you have almost certainly NEVER HEARD OF THESE GRAPES before.  In the extremely comprehensive 2010 edition of Oz Clarke's "Grapes & Wines" - which lists information on almost a thousand grape varieties - the only Turkish indigenous entry is Boğazkere ('Bo-az-ker-ay').  And all the entry says is, "Turkish grape giving decent, deep-colored, alcoholic wine."

What about Narince? ('Nah-rin-jay')
What about Öküzgözü? ('Euh-kooz-guh-zoo')
What about Kalecik Karası? ('Cal-eh-jeek Car-ah-suh')
What about Syrah?  Oh wait, that one you know.

Blue Mosque, Istanbul
Yes, international grapes like Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc - even Sangiovese and Tempranillo - grow well in Turkey, but it's these quirky native grapes that shine and are completely deserving of awareness around the rest of the world.

So, why haven't we all gone nuts over Turkish wine like we have over Greek wine (with its similarly hard-to-pronounce local grapes) or for wine from other niche countries like Lebanon and Bulgaria?
Turkish Delight

Two reasons: Identity and Awareness.

In terms of identity, Turkey is a primarily Muslim country, albeit a relatively liberal one.  So many outsiders just assume no one will drink wine, let alone make wine there.  NOT TRUE!  But most Turks opt for beer or the local anise-flavored spirit rakı, so it's even hard to get locals excited about their country's wine.  And let's not forget those crazy-named grapes.  Euh-kooz-guh-WHAT?

As for awareness - well, you and I are taking care of that right now, aren't we!

When our tour was in the capital city of Ankara, I was able to arrange a visit at Kavaklidere, Turkey's largest winery.  Mr. Onur Özgül, their foreign trade specialist, took Carol and me on an extensive tour of the facility there, including the on-site bottling operation and a small "test vineyard" outside of the production building.  Then we were joined by Mr. Fehmi Atak, the trading director, to taste through some of their wines.

Kavaklidere is large in volume and production.  It is the only Turkish winery with three centers for grape processing, which reduces the time the picked grapes spend in transport from far reaches of the country.  (Most Turkish wine regions are in the western half of the country, although there are a few notable areas in the east.)  Their portfolio consists of forty-nine different wines (yes, that's a lot!) ranging from entry-level wines up to multiple award-winning prestige offerings, and including semi-sweet, sparkling, and fortified selections.

Production facility and test vineyard
The only Turkish wine I'd ever tasted before, I realized, had been from Kavaklidere (see my 2011 post on some NYC Wine Bars) - and in Turkey, their wines were prevalent in nearly every hotel bar we passed through... and we passed through a lot.

I won't bore you with details about the little old ladies who come in to destem the grapes by hand, or the length of maceration time for each grape, or the storage capacity for their tanks... but I will say that the effort to run a modern facility that produces wine to be competitive in an international market is quite strong.

Mr. Özgül said with almost a fervor, "This is where wine came from in the beginning.  Wine is a culture in Turkey; we need to develop this culture."

Stainless Steel tanks
Kavaklidere does export twenty percent of their production, mostly to Turkish restaurants in other countries.  But a recent search on also showed a decent amount of Kavaklidere wines available at wine stores in the States.  (With mid-range wines priced $8-12 and the Prestige topping out at $30, you can definitely afford to give them a try!)  While they do want to raise brand awareness at home, Mr. Özgül said their "goal is to present our wines in international markets, not only in Turkey." And recently, their efforts have intensified and paid off - over the past five or six years, they've attended more and more international wine competitions, and the medals have started to pile up.

In addition, Kavaklidere is proud that in a historically male-dominated society, both their prior and current winemakers are women, and also that their company's team is mostly young with a large amount of women members.  It is a vibrant, modern group, passionate and ready to bring Turkish wine to the world.

Sadly, just as their trajectory is intensifying, they are being hobbled by governmental controls.  While I was in Turkey, strict legislation banning all advertisement of alcohol and restricting hours of sale was passed.  While neither of my Kavaklidere hosts alluded to these harsh restrictions, their business will almost certainly suffer.  The future of the Turkish wine industry is one more uncertainty stemming from governmental crackdowns and subsequent public dissatisfaction.

(For a firsthand take on the situation in Turkey that began while I was there - the protests about razing trees in Gezi park, the subsequent overly-harsh reaction by police using tear gas and water cannons, and the escalating protests that encapsulated many peoples' anger over too-strict government controls - please see this post on my personal blog.)

Okay, okay - I know you really want to get down to business: WHAT ABOUT THE WINES?!

We started with the 2011 Prestige Narince, a single-vineyard, 100% Narince from Kappadokia.  It was medium-pale straw gold, with a nose of apple, hay, minerals and lemon.  In the mouth, there was tropical fruit and lush minerality, noticeable terroir, with medium acidity and a long, creamy finish.  A very nice wine, a bit reminiscent of a well-made unoaked Chardonnay.

Also from the volcanic soils of Kappadokia was the 2011 Côtes d'Avanos Narince-Chardonnay.  (If Narince evokes Chardonnay, it's no surprise they would blend well, yes?)  About 70% Narince, 30% Chardonnay, this spent nine months in French oak barrels.  A medium yellow gold, with a nose of honey, lemon, and a little butter, in the mouth it showed a steely minerality and very clean finish with medium acid.

I quite enjoyed the 2012 Egeo Roze (rosé) from Anatolya.  A blend of 60% Çal Karası and 40% Grenache, it had a pale color of salmon/ onion skin.  The nose was warm, of light tart cherry fruit and minerals.  It was very, very dry, with lots of acidity but not too bracing, and fruit that went on and on, with rose petal and geranium florals and a bit of salinity.

2012 was a difficult vintage in Turkey, but some wines showed well, like the above roze and the 2012 Ancyra Muscat.  This grape is similar to Muscat of Alexandria but local - there are numerous variations of the Muscat grape all over the world.  Although this had nine milligrams of residual sugar, it exhibited dry.  The color was a very pale greenish gold.  Across the board, this showed tremendous varietal character - incredible floral aromatics, very light and refreshing, with medium acidity, a little residual CO2 'shpritz' and a note of taffy candy.

Now to the reds!

First up, the 2010 Pendore Öküzgözü (I was told that's Turkish for "bull's eye," though Google Translate doesn't seem to agree.) It is from an area near Izmir, a city on the Aegean seacoast, and is medium-dark ruby, with a nose of dusty terroir and berry salad.  In the mouth there is red plum to boot, and it is rich in earthy/berry flavor but light in style with good acid and soft tannins.

Next we sampled two more from the Prestige line, first the 2009 Prestige Kalecik Karası.  This grape actually originated in Ankara, about 40 km from where we were tasting.  It was light garnet in color, with a nose of dried cherry and sage, and in the mouth there was a hint of oak and lots of violet florals with a loooong well-balanced finish.  (I wrote, "yummmmy" and even put a star next to it.) If you're a fan of Pinot Noir, this would be right up your alley... it was very quaffable and I was wishing we'd stop spitting and have some hors d'oeuvres already.

Finally we tasted the powerhouse of the group, the 2009 Prestige Boğazkere.  That word means "throat-burning," which you'd think would normally put tasters off, but as it was the most structured and tannic of the group, I kind of see what the ancient Turks were going for when they named it.  It came from a vineyard in Diyarbakır, which is the most south-eastern wine region in Turkey. This was a dark ruby color with a nose of cherry liqueur, wet leaves, and blueberries.  In the mouth, there was tart red fruit yet it had a masculine feel with a very long finish.  It was definitely different and interesting (though I also wrote, "a little strange," but you all KNOW how I love weird wines!)

Unfortunately, we were not able to stay longer and go through the 42 other wines, but I would have certainly made the attempt if asked!  While some of the entry-level Kavaklidere offerings that I had been able to try in other parts of Turkey were very simple, fine but forgettable, the majority of these wines I found very impressive.

Although there is currently a relatively low availability of these wines in the States, I encourage you to make the effort to seek out Kavaklidere and other Turkish wines (Kayra is another good and somewhat avaliable producer; I have tasting notes from the very yummy 2009 Kayra Vintage Öküzgözü Single Vineyard on my Wine Minx facebook page.)

Wineaux like myself are doing what we can to encourage importing and distribution, as so many of us have gone gaga over these wines once we've had the privilege of tasting them.  I look forward to hearing about your Turkish-wine-treasure-hunt, and what you think about them!

Evil eyes to ward off bad spirits
Detail of sarcophagus at
Antalya Archeological Museum
Since the choice of Turkey as a vacation destination was really quite random, I truly felt as if every wonderful thing I came across there was a special gift; the people, the scenery, the history, the food, and especially the wine.

If Turkey has not yet been on your radar, I strongly suggest you put it at the top of places to visit next!

Library facade at Ephesus
Drink well, and Cheers.
Carol and I having just a miserable
day aboard a boat, about to take
a dip in the Turkish Mediterranean

Wednesday, May 15, 2013


Wineaux, I hesitate to write about Madeira.  It is a special wine, not always easy to find, a little confusing, somewhat specialized and often exceedingly expensive. But Madeira is so amazing; there is no other wine like it.

It is a sweet wine - but not a swap-out for dessert like Sauternes might be.

It often has a steely salinity not unlike Sherry - but you won't mistake it for Sherry.

And Madeira is basically indestructible - you can leave a bottle open for years and it will never go bad.

Madeira is a fortified wine that is also subject to a heating process (which accounts for the indestructibility) made from indigenous grapes called Sercial, Verdelho, Boal and Malvasia, plus the workhorse grape Tinta Negra Mole, blended or alone.  Named for the island from which it comes, Madeira is made in a range of styles ranging from drier to sweeter, usually seen in association with those different grapes.

I recently sampled a number of Madeira wines that showcased the range of possibilities you can find from these wines.  Some favorites included:

The Henriques & Henriques Rainwater had a light gold color - at three years old, it was one of the babies at the tasting.  It had a nice buttery element, both in texture and somewhat in flavor, with a hint of saline.  The Rainwater designation refers to a lighter style of Madeira that is more approachable and the H&H showcased that beautifully. ~$18

My favorite offering at the Blandy's table was the Blandy's Colheita Malmsey 1994.  A light mahogany color, it showed nice elements of floral perfume on the nose in addition to more traditional notes of caramel and sweet oak.  It was rich and nicely balanced. ~$48/500ml

The star of the tasting, in my opinion, was the D'Oliveira Verhelho 1912.  Granted, most of the tasting's offerings were more common and/or recent vintages, so there were not a lot of Madeiras at this level to compare.  But I have a bottle of 1898 Blandy's Reserve Terrantez (a rare "fifth" grape) open at home which is pretty darn tasty, so I have some experience with long-aged Madeiras.  The D'Oliveira had the most incredible nose of lilac.  The florals in the mouth combined with a toasty caramel and lots of acidity.  Just a beautiful wine.  ~$400

So don't be afraid to give Madeira a try.  The lighter and less-sweet styles - Sercial and Verdelho - are lovely as an aperitif, and the sweeter styles - Boal and Malmsey - will go beautifully with dark chocolate cake.  In fact, adventurous Wineaux should have a lot of fun coming up with interesting food pairings for Madeira.  And don't let the price scare you away; a glass once a year at a special occasion will make the bottle last and last, giving you a very hedonistic bang-for-the-buck!