It’s here: Chairman’s Selection Tasting Results – Fall 2014

Pennsylvania Wine enthusiasts often suggest the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board system keeps Pennsylvanians from the great retail sale prices available in other states.   Debate over the PLCB’s efficacy will go on… and on.   In the meantime, we consumers can walk into many of the state’s specialty stores this holiday season and find some high quality “Chairman’s Selection” wines at very competitive prices (brought to us by the Chairman’s Selection program leader Steven Pollack and his team, who take advantage of the PLCB’s market heft to locate and bring to our market, wines that would otherwise never find their way here at these prices).

Through undeniable good fortune I was invited, to be among PLCB wine specialists and a handful of press (including Elizabeth Downer of the Post-Gazette), to taste through 40+ upcoming Chairman’s Selection wines.   Below are my favorites of this tasting with a few additional selections included, with wines divided into several categories.   Additionally, I’ve added my own numerical score to help give perspective on my impressions vis-à-vis other tasting publications.

 

Screaming good deals – solid quality wines under $10 per bottle – serve these wines before revealing the price (and prepare for a pat on the back!).

Cultivate the Feast Red California 2010 $7.99 (PLCB Code 33578 – In stores early December) – This wine started life as a California red blend exclusive to a large national restaurant chain – but corporate desire shifted away from this wine and now Pennsylvania has several thousand cases to sell.   And sell it will (if purchasers aren’t put off by the unattractive label, but isn’t quality wine always more important than quality label art?).   The 2010 California vintage produced high quality grapes for many wines and this blend (78% Merlot, 9% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Malbec, 5% Syrah) is certainly a quality wine with aromas of raspberry, blueberry and spices followed by a dense but balanced and lush mouthful of dark fruits backed up by some oak in the long finish.  I could not find ratings on this wine, but I award it a solid 90 points and I expect to purchase a case of it!  Information for this wine provided by the Chairman’s team states an original price of $25 which seems plausible – but for $7.99 this wine is a Screaming Good Deal!

Victor Vineyards Roadside Red California 2011 $8.99 (PLCB code 33629 – In stores mid-December).  California Zinfandel is known as one of the most jammy red wine varietals which invites both detractors and admirers.   Combine a super jammy grape with a cooler than usual 2011 growing season and the super ripe characteristics are tempered slightly, which in this instance works out well!   The Roadside Red combines a heavy dose of Zinfandel (65%) with smaller amounts of Merlot (18%) and Petit Syrah (9%) – the result is a big, but not lopsided, wine full of red fruits and a little spice (possibly thanks to the Petit Syrah) in the finish.   The Wine Enthusiast called this wine a “great bargain” and awarded 88 points, but I feel like the additional time in the bottle has benefited the wine and I feel it is worth 89 points.   Original pricing for this wine is said to be $16, but discounted in PA to $8.99 which makes the Roadside Red a Screaming Good Deal!

Evening Land Bourgogne Blanc 2011 $9.99 (PLCB Code 33575 – In Stores now) – A white burgundy (100% Chardonnay) from an un-typical producer… Also an un-typical wine in that the fruit is somewhat more pronounced than the acidity, possibly a nod to the American Chardonnay style – a hint of oak along with apple pie and pear flavors get bigger as the wine warms in the glass.  87 points from me.   This wine provides a lot of sophisticated flavor without charging a lot of money – and at $9.99 this wine is a Screaming Good Deal.

 

Solid values – wines that deliver interesting and compelling taste/flavor experience without breaking the bank.

Peltier Station Viognier 2009 $6.99 (PLCB code 33661) – Party white!  Hailing from California’s super warm central valley Lodi wine appellation, this is a nearly heavy, tropical fruited, spicy white.  While some might suggest higher acidity would better counter the fruit, I might argue the fruit is nice by itself (additionally I might argue that Lodi is not famous for producing crisp white wines, so it is likely that this Viognier never expected to be crisper than it is!).   A great party-white especially for guests who love the dense fruit of California Chardonnays – at this price you can serve at a holiday party and feel no remorse!  Drink soon. 86pts

Goose Ridge Vineyards Riesling, Columbia Valley Washington 2013 $7.99 (PLCB code 33574) An interesting wine.  The folks at Goose Ridge delivered a Riesling that straddles the range between fully sweet and dry.   The fragrant aromas suggest floral and honeysuckle but then a taste delivers succulent peach and tangerine flavors finishing with some mineral and savory notes.   If serving turkey for the holidays this Riesling could be the right match at $7.99.  86pts

Paul Dolan Gewürztraminer Revolution, Mendocino County California 2013 $9.99 (PLCB code 33570) An American Gewurztraminer is an unusual wine, but next time I order Indian take out it will by my choice!   Aromatics include pear and floral notes with a soft mouth feel followed by flavors of citrus, pear and a mineral-tinged finish.  87 pts

Signae Grechetto IGT Umbria Italy 2013 $9.99 (PLCB code 33608) – Crisp White!  Produced in central Italian region of Umbria from a blend of Grechetto, Sauvignon, and Malavasia di Candia.   This is a light, bright white wine with a citrusy nose and nicely composed bright tropical/citrus fruit flavors – slightly similar to a Pinot Grigio, but slightly more interesting!  88pts

Stone Forest Chenin Blanc South Africa $11.99 (PLCB code 33658 available mid-January) – South Africa is famous for light, crisp styles of Chenin Blanc (sometimes referred to by the name “Steen”).   In France’s Loire valley, the heart of Chenin Blanc wine making tradition the styles are can range from crisp to slightly softer, somewhat sweeter style.  The Stone Forest Chenin Blanc is a lovely example of the refreshingly crunchy South African Chenin Blanc with tropical, crisp white with floral hints that soften the crispness. 90 pts

Terra da Vino Masseria dei Carmelitani Gavi di Gavi DOCG Piedmont Italy 2013  $12.99 (PLCB code 33699 available mid-December)  A dry but deeply juicy wine from Italy’s most northwest region of Piedmont.   Gavi di Gavi whites are highly sought after, so when a good example comes available for only $12.99 a careful look is warranted.   This Gavi di Gavi from Terra da Vino Masseria dei Carmelitani delivers a juicy, medium-bodied, floral-tinged but dry mouthful of light fruits.  Lightly sauced fish or shrimp will match nicely.  89 pts

Villa Montignana Chianti Classico Riserva Tuscany Italy 2009 $12.99 (PLCB code 33694)  Possibly the most recognized Italian wine term is “Chianti” – and maybe this is because the wine is so much a part of the Italian food culture.   With this in mind, everyone should make an effort to try some of their favorite Italian red-sauce-based foods with some Chianti wine and enjoy the experience!   This Chianti Classico Riserva (designated for steps upward in wine-making and ageing from the simpler Chianti wines) is 85% Sangiovese with 10% Merlot and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon.   The small portion of Bordeaux grapes makes a difference in this wine by adding heft and slight blueberry and blackberry flavors, but the trademark intense red fruits from Sangiovese still take center stage.   Many Sangiovese-based Italian reds require hours and hours of decanting to arrive at a reasonable drinking point, but as this wine already has a few years bottle age, it may be easier drinking sooner.   A good price for a nice, if untraditional, Chianti.  Wine Enthusiast awarded 89 pts, I rate it 89 pts too.

Colli Ripani Pharus Rosso Piceno Superiore Castellano DOC 2010 $13.99 (PLCB code 33670 available January)  Rosso Piceno wines are produced in the Central-Eastern Marche region of Italy – these wines are required by law to have at least 60% Sangiovese with the remainder filled out by Montepulciano grapes (not to be confused with the Italian region and wines that are called Montepulciano).   Interestingly, this Rosso Piceno showed typical red fruits in the nose and flavors of red and black fruits packed over a richer than expected frame – if tasted blind I might have suggested it were a new world, modern style red.   Either way, a nicely balanced, food friendly wine for a competitive price.  88 pts.

 

Impressive wines – Wines that impress, regardless of price

Vignamaggio Castello di Monna Lisa Chianti Classico Riserva DOCG $24.99 (PLCB code 33606) Another modern feeling Chianti Classico Riserva and despite the seeming contradiction in terms this wine is quite polished and refined.   Sangiovese content hits the minimum 80% threshold to keep the Chainti Classico DOCG designation with the remaining 20% filled out my (unsurprisingly) Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.   Other Chiantis may provide a more rustic and traditional experience, but in this wine there is quality wine-making and quality fruit to carry the modern wine forward.   There is good depth in the traditional Sangiovese notes of violet, cherry and leather yet the refined tannins suggest the wine will become more complex in the next few years (or after several hours of decanting!).   Wine Advocate awarded 90 pts and I agree with 90 pts now, but would anticipate a higher rating (91-92 pts) a few years into the future.

Archaval Ferrer Quimera Mendoza Argentina 2011 $28.99 (PLCB code 33644) – A high end wine from one of Argentina’s most highly respected producers.   Produced with a blend of all five traditional Bordeaux grapes (38% Malbec, 26% Cabernet Franc, 23% Merlot, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Petit Verdot), this wine is dense and opaque, but delivers floral and violet notes on the nose.  Flavors are intense, savory, cherry and black fruits with uplifting juicy acidity, leading to a long finish with cassis and hint of tea and tobacco.   Tannins are sturdy, but fine grained – I suggest some decanting, or simply keeping a bottle for a year or two, you will definitely reap a reward on this one.  Wine Advocate awarded 90 pts, Wine Spectator awarded 92 pts, I fall in line with the Spectator and rate this wine 92 pts.

Emblem Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford 2009  $34.99 (PLCB code 33622 – available mid-December)  Here is another example of the interesting deals that only a program like the Chairman’s Selection program can provide.   Emblem wines are produced by the Mondavi family who have more than a little experience making high end Napa reds.   In this case it appears the Rutherford Cabernet is being discontinued and the remaining stock sold off to PA wine consumers.   This Rutherford Cabernet displays all the wonderful attributes typically associated with Napa Cabs, warm cassis, cedar overlay some dark fruits while aromatic camphorwood notes float over top.   The familiar, dusty, Rutherford tannins are quite apparent now, but should settle nicely with some decanting or another year or two in bottle.  This Emblem Cab tastes like a much more expensive wine… I will certainly find a few of these for my cellar.  I rate it 92 pts.

Clarendon Hills Syrah Brookman Australia 2008 $36.99 (PLCB code 33612) Clarendon Hills was founded in 1990 by a South Australian biochemist pursuing his passion to produce vineyard-inspired wines.   Since then Clarendon Hills has enjoyed countless accolades and high prices for big, heavy, impressive Aussie Syrah, Cabernet, Merlot, Mourvedre and Grenache wines, all from single vineyards and single grape varietals.   As fashion in America (and Australian Dollar exchange rates) shifted away from the big Australian Shiraz styles, Clarendon Hills has pressed on, continuing to make their trademark big reds although prices have dropped – which is good for the consumer!   The Brookman is a great example of trademark Clarendon Syrah style.   Nothing here is subtle, but despite the power there is plenty of complexity and refinement.   Mouth feel is dense with rich smoky plum and blackberry flavors over a strong but not over-bearing backbone of oak and tannin.   With a little breathing this wine will impress big red wine fans now, but should keep improving for a few years to come.  Wine Spectator awarded 90 pts, Wine Advocate 92 pts, I agree and rate the Brookman 92 pts.

 

Champagne!  (no description needed…)

Herbert Beaufort Brut Champagne Bouzy Grand Cru Carte d’Or NV $32.99 (PLCB code 33675 – available mid-December)  Source grapes for this Champagne came from the historic Grand Cru Bouzy appellation which is famous for Pinot Noir, so it is hardly surprising that this Champagne is a blend of 90% Pinot Noir and 10% Chardonnay (bearing in mind that inclusion of the third Champagne grape, Pinot Meunier would render the sparkler a non-Grand Cru as there are no Grand Cru Pinot Meunier vineyards in Champagne).   As often expected from Pinot Noir dominant sparklers, the wine taste comes through the mouth feel of rich frothy bubbles.   In this Herbert Beaufort medium-rich Champagne we find notes of almonds, peaches and pears with dried fruits blended together followed by a taut grip at the finish –Robust enough to match a buttery lobster dinner!  91 pts.

Pierre Legras Blanc de Blancs Grand Cru Brut NV $34.99 (PLCB code 33274 in stores now) A Grand Cru Champagne for less than the big corporate, well-known, highly marketed blends – worth investigating to be sure, and rewarding in this case.   To those who enjoy the delicacy and finesse of a Blanc de Blanc Champagne (100% Chardonnay), this example, for which the grapes were sourced only from designated Grand Cru vineyards, hits the target.   Although light in weight, the bead is intense and flavors are a concentrated-yet-refined blend of apple, yeasty biscuit, and chalk – seamless throughout and finishing cleanly with mineral hints.  No bad flavors or hard edges.  If you have Champagne-loving friends, impress them with this Blanc de Blanc!  Wine Spectator awarded 91 pts, I rate it 93 pts.

Alfred Gratien Brut Champagne NV $39.99 (PLCB code 33609 specialty stores) Champagne is a great pleasure for many – and this Alfred Gratien Brut will surely provide pleasure to all who try it!   Persistent, lively mousse does not cover over the nicely integrated flavors of hazelnuts, dried fruit and citrus which slowly give way to a clean, slightly chalky, crisp finish.   Even though oak is used in production there is little evidence in the flavor.  This is a lighter style of Champagne that recalls a Blanc de Blanc (100% Chardonnay) with great finesse and delicacy, despite the blend of all three traditional Champagne grapes (45% Chardonnay, 43% Pinot Meunier, 12% Pinot Noir).  Sip on its own or try with shellfish and light appetizers.  Wine Advocate awarded 90 pts, Wine Spectator awarded 92 pts, I rate it 92 pts!

Autumn reds for autumn foods – Rhone always delivers!

As weather turns chilly and leaves turn colors, much of what we eat turns toward warm, savory autumn meals and wine-enthusiasts’ thoughts often turn to warm and approachable Rhone style red wines.   Paired with hearty stews, and game night chili, the so-called “Rhone Varietals” are a solid red wine choice for the season’s cuisine.   Indeed anyone who has enjoyed a slow-cooked cassoulet paired with a Chateaunuef du Pape knows how wonderful this seasonal dish can be!

Grapes used in France’s Southern Rhone, or Rhone Varietals as they are often called (Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, Cinsault, Carignan and several more which are produced in smaller quantities, 13 in total) are so-named because they are the primary components of the world famous wines of the Rhone Region.   By contrast, the Northern Rhone wine region features red wines produced principally from the single varietal Syrah mostly, yielding completely different personality which warrants a separate discussion.  Regarding the Southern Rhone, even if the grapes themselves are unfamiliar to many of us, many people have heard of wines from famous Southern Rhone sub-regions like Chateauneuf du Pape and Gigondas, not to mention the high-value and popular regional wines called “Cotes du Rhone”.

When blended, Southern Rhone grapes lend different character to their wines, Grenache brings spice and red berry fruit characteristics, Syrah contributes structure and smooth savory pepper and smoke qualities, while Mourvedre adds deep color and leathery dark fruit flavors.   When combined into a blend – Rhone wines from different makers and regions can range from round, deep sophisticated classic Chateauneuf du Pape to herbal, raw-meat-game flavors of top Gigondas, to rustic, fruit driven and affordable regional wines called Cotes du Rhone.

In a restaurant setting, an easy technique to locate these wines is to keep it simple and remember three letters: G, S and M (for Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre).   Many winemakers around the world use the acronym “GSM” when naming wines that contain Rhone varietals and blends of them.   So with a quick reference to these three letters, or mention of Rhone Varietals, a knowledgeable restaurant sommelier will lead you to these wines.   Important to remember, is that these varietals are used in blends and on their own, in wines all over the world.   Differences between the old-world French and new-world versions fall along typical old/new-world lines with the French exhibiting slightly more herbal and complex savory fruit flavors while new-world versions are more dense and fruit driven.   But all over the wine world, Rhone varietals are produced with great success – so one needn’t focus purely on actual French Rhone wines (although you wouldn’t be disappointed!).

Australia has a celebrated wine history driven in a large party by Rhone varietals (Syrah, or Shiraz as the Aussies call it, and many containing traditional GSM blends).   South America and South Africa both are making waves for their Rhone varietal wines.   And in California there is even a group of wine-makers called ‘the Rhone-Rangers’ because of their steadfast commitment to making top quality Rhone blends, and several actual French Rhone winemakers are producing wines in California.   An added bonus: wines blended of these grapes from anywhere in the world are regularly food-friendly, so you cannot go wrong!

After some experimenting, you can identify different styles that appeal to you and can then seek them out in restaurants and at PLCB State Stores.   Here are some I recommend: 

Widely available Rhones/Rhone Styles at Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board Stores:

Cotes du Rhone – regional wine meant to be consumed within a few years of release, these are fruity approachable wines with rustic Rhone characteristics.

PLCB Code: 8132 E Guigal Red Wine Cotes du Rhone 2010 $14.99 Sale Price: $12.99

PLCB Code: 6794 Perrin et Fils Cotes du Rhone Villages $12.99 Sale Price: $11.99

PLCB Code: 6557 M Chapoutier Belleruche Rouge Cotes du Rhone $14.99

PLCB Code: 45213 JL Chave Mon Coeur Cotes du Rhone Rouge 2012 $21.99

Gigondas – meaty and rustic, often accessible when young, but can last many years.

PLCB Code: 33532 Domaine de la Tete Noir Gigondas 2012 $29.99

PLCB Code: 48191 Domaine du Cayron Gigondas 2011 $34.99

PLCB Code: 45033 Domaine du Cayron Gigondas 2012 $39.99

Chateauneuf du Pape – round, smooth and classic, Chateauneuf wines may last a long time, but don’t be afraid to try them when only a few years old.

PLCB Code: 7278 Domaine De Mont Redon Chateauneuf du Pape $41.99

PLCB Code: 6790  Clos de l’Oratoire Chateauneuf du Pape $44.99 Sale Price: $39.99

PLCB Code: 48462 Vieux Telegraphe Chateauneuf du Pape La Crau 2011 $84.99

New World – generally more fruit driven but highly satisfying

Australia: PLCB Code: 46194 D’Arenberg Stump Jump GSM 2011 $9.99

Australia: PLCB Code: 38883 Schild Estate Grenache Mourvedre Shiraz Barossa Valley 2012 $14.99

USA: PLCB Code: 45523 Tablas Creek Patelin de Tablas Rouge Paso Robles 2011 $17.99

Pittsburgh Restaurants (subject to change of course):

Open Bottle Bistro in Shadyside (5884 Ellsworth Avenue) serves the J.L. Chave Selections’ “Mon Coeur” Cotes du Rhone for $9 per glass, and will sell a recent vintage of Domaine de la Solitude Chateauneuf du Pape from the 500+ year old producer for $95 per bottle.

Dinette in Shadyside (5996 Centre Avenue) serves a Cotes du Rhone, Domaine du Joncier 2012, for $11 per glass and $42 per bottle.

Lawrenceville’s Allegheny Wine Mixer currently features a Rhone blend from Corbieres (Southern France) for $9 per glass and $36 per bottle.  (Chateau Spencer La Pujade Corbieres – Carignan/ Mourvèdre/Syrah/Grenache – Languedoc, France 2012)

ROOT174 features Le Garrigon, Cotes du Rhone for $10 per glass

Downtown, The Carleton’s Wine List contains a Rhone section with 15 Rhone wines by the bottle, ranging in price from $32 to $220.  This list also features several Australian GSM blends and another section dedicated to American Syrahs and Rhone-style blends.

Stagioni serves TWO Rhone blends by the bottle, one from Vacqueras (Domaine du Terme, Vacqueyras, Rhone, 2010 $50) and a Cotes du Rhone (J.L. Chave Selections’ “Mon Coeur” 2012)

Eleven features several Rhone wines in the bottle list, ranging from $45 to $210.  None by the glass.

Legume features a French Rhone-blend (Corbieres) and an American (Qupe, Santa Ynez Valley), none by the glass.

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All duck dinner – duck five ways with five wines!

We are fortunate to live in a city with a restaurant like The Crested Duck.   Chef Kevin Costa painstakingly obsesses to make sure that every single bite is satisfying and tasty – AND reflects the flavors he intended.   With this in mind, and knowing several people who love duck – we at www.off-the-grid.ws challenged The Crested Duck to create a five course dinner with some element of duck in EVERY COURSE!   Chef Costa accepted the challenge and produced a menu that looked great to us, so we sent the invitation hoping to capture the interest of those few who dig duck like us… it sold out in three hours!

Matching the wines to the courses would hopefully be less challenging than creating the food, but we would see…   As it turned out the food was fantastic, and my biggest surprise was the ice cream made with duck fat – Wow!   The wines performed well: the Sauternes was the appropriate and correct match for the Foie Gras, the Decoy Chardonnay was wonderfully crisp for a Californian chardonnay, but despite my imagining that the main duck courses would match better to the smooth and spicy Rioja (which was still a very nice wine), the overwhelming crowd favorite was the Dierberg Pinot Noir.   I will note that one bottle of the Pinot Noir smelled slightly ‘off’ but fortunately this blew off quickly and the wine returned to its normal lushness.   Finally the Gruet Brut NV was the ever-reliable-bubbly that we have loved for years, providing a lively counter to the super rich duck ice cream dessert.

Off-the-Grid Sunday Supper –ALL DUCK DINNER at The Crested Duck

1st COURSE – FOIE GRAS MOUSSE – LEEK CONFIT, BAKED APPLE, PANCETTA

LA FLEUR RENAISSANCE SAUTERNES 2011

 

2nd COURSE – CHARCUTERIE – SMOKED DUCK BREAST, DUCK AND CHERRY PATE, DUCK SPECK

DUCKHORN DECOY CHARDONNAY SONOMA 2013

 

3rd COURSE – DUCK CONFIT CREPE – ORANGE CRÈME FRAICHE, POMEGRANATE, BITTER CHOCOLATE

DIERBERG PINOT NOIR Santa Maria VALLEY 2010

 

4th COURSE – CRISPY DUCK BREAST – MUSHROOM RISOTTO

CVNE VINA REAL RIOJA ALAVESA CRIANZA 2009

 

5th COURSE – CARAMELIZED DUCK FAT & FLEUR DE SEL ICE CREAM – SHORTBREAD COOKIE

GRUET BRUT METHODE CHAMPENOISE NV

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Napa Merlot worth trying – Bommarito Merlot Napa Valley 2012 by Whitehall Lane

While contemplating the famous anti-merlot statements in the movie ‘SIDEWAYS’, my enthusiast friends and I reiterated our belief that Merlot got a bad wrap in that movie scene.   To be fair to those who cheered when the line was delivered, we recognize that Merlot as a varietal became hugely popular through the 1990s, which led to over planting and over production of the California favorite and too much mediocre, over-ripe, too-sweet Merlots.   But does this mean Merlot is ‘bad’?  Of course not – some of the world’s most famous wines are Merlot-based – has anyone priced a Chateau Petrus lately? For those of us who cannot afford the world’s most sought after Bordeaux wines, we are still quite fortunate to have access to perfectly tasty Merlot wines that no one would (or should) be embarrassed to order!

One such wine is the Bommarito Merlot Napa Valley 2012.   Famous Napa producer Whitehall Lane created this wine (named after the historic Bommarito Vineyard in Rutherford) from Napa Valley sourced grapes during the high volume and equally high quality 2012 vintage.   Despite the affordable $14 pricetag, this wine delivers aromas of cherry and oak on the nose, and a big, rich, ripe, mouthful of dark berries and (common Merlot trademark) blueberry flavors ending in a not-too-tannic finish that is quite pleasing.   Of note, even though fruit is huge in this wine, at no point is this Merlot too sweet or over-oaked in its assembly.   Overall this wine delivers what Napa reds are famous for, at a price far below most quality Napa wines – so we consumers owe it to ourselves to give it a try!   Try it with hard cheeses and grilled meats, I certainly will!

(Bommarito Merlot Napa Valley 2012 by Whitehall Lane PLCB Code 33389 $13.99)

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Bargain Portuguese red blend Carmim Aragones Reguengos 2012

Looking for a wine to stand up to burgers and other summer-grill favorites?  Try the Carmim Aragones Reguengos 2012 – you may want to buy several to last the remainder of the Grilling Season!

First some background: American wine enthusiasts often overlook the wines of Portugal, not for any ill will toward the country (I loved Portugal in all aspects during my visit) but more for the fact that Portuguese grapes are little known outside of Portugal, many Portuguese wines are blends of multiple grapes and this is a difficult hurdle to overcome in a world wine market focused on universal grape names – how many times have we heard a customer tell a server “I’ll have a Cabernet” or “I like Chardonnay”?   Conversely, rarely is heard the phrase “please bring me a multiple grape blend of Portuguese grapes that I cannot pronounce”…

So while there may be understandable reasons why Portuguese wines do not own high level American mind-share, there are many reasons wine enthusiasts should give them a try.   For example, Portugal’s wine industry suffered (like the rest of its economy) through difficult political rule in the 20 century, leaving many of its vineyards neglected and wineries idle, but the past 20 years have seen vast financial investment with influx of international talent which resulted in rapid redevelopment of Portugal’s wine industry – this allows the wine-buying public to enjoy good quality wines at bargain prices.

Case in point:  Carmim Aragones Reguengos 2012 is a quality red at a good price ($10 bucks!).   Hailing from one of Portugal’s lesser known regions (Alentejo Region covers the south central portion of the country), and specifically a co-op in the town of Reguengos de Monsaraz, a town due east of Lisbon and nearly to the Spanish border which also is home to very successful ESPORAO Wines and Olive Oils.   A blend of 40% Trincadeira (sometimes referred to as ‘Portuguese Malbec’, but in reality not related to Malbec), 40% Aragonez (also called Tinto Roriz in other Portuguese regions, and Tempranillo in Spain), 20% Castelão (sometimes called Periquita in Portugal), these are not the most commonly known grapes, but the blend results in a pleasing red wine.   The color is dark garnet red, not purple, but nearly as dark.   Although medium bodied, the wine packs an intense, juicy delivery of red and black fruit flavors with a bit of a rustic character.   The freshness and clean flavor intensity together with medium body gives away its old world origin – and makes it ideal to stand up to cheeses and possibly grilled veggies or meats.   Additionally, this wine is listed as #20 on a popular wine magazine’s top 100 best buys.   You might like it too – and at this price it is worth a try!  (PLCB Code: 43567 Carmim Aragones Reguengos 2012 $9.99 750ML, 14% ABV, Available in Specialty Stores).

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Screaming Good Deal: The Show Chardonnay 2012 at $7.99

A certain satisfaction always accompanies declaring a Screaming Good Deal – defined as a wine with below $10 price point and above $10 quality.   In the case of The Show Chardonnay 2012, satisfaction is clearly warranted.

Similar to many other wines at affordable price points, The Show Chardonnay is a wine produced by winemakers and business people using purchased grapes, rather than by a winery on an estate using exclusively estate grown grapes.   While the estate grown and produced wines may produce consistently high quality wines vintage after vintage, the less expensive production method of simply buying grapes and making wine has potential to yield high quality wines at low prices IF the vintage is especially good.   In my opinion, California’s high quality AND high quantity 2012 vintage, during which many grape growers complained only about not having enough space to store all their harvested grapes, will afford us consumers great value opportunities in some lower priced wines.

The Show Chardonnay 2012 at $7.99 is exactly this scenario.   Created from a blend of 100% chardonnay grapes from California’s Sonoma and Monterrey regions, and aged in French oak, this California Chardonnay may lack the prestige of a big name estate or region, but the successful 2012 vintage delivers moderate apple and pear aromas followed by flavorful hints of citrus, pineapple, pear and baked apple.   Although oak was used, there is mercifully little of the heavy oak flavors that trademark many California Chards.   Instead, the oak/vanilla hints are balanced with the overall soft acidity and fruit flavors.   The Show’s weight and flavors are clearly Californian, but with alcohol measured at a comparatively low 13.6%, this Chardonnay isn’t too heavy or thick to encourage more and more sips on a warm summer evening or with a rich fish like Salmon or Arctic Char.   At this price, buying enough to last the rest of the summer is worthwhile!   (PLCB Code 33338 The Show Chardonnay 2012 750 ML $7.99 – available in PLCB Specialty Stores)

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Two Tasty Americans – solid value Pennsylvania Chairman’s Selections: Beringer Sauvignon Blanc and Sebastiani Merlot

With price points just north of my $10 qualification to be a ‘screaming good deal’, these two wines present very solid value to the wine-loving consumer.

Beringer Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley 2012 – The Beringer winery in Napa Valley is an icon of the US wine industry.   Founded in 1875, Beringer has operated successfully and steadily expanded to its current globally recognized status.   Known for high volume production, and high-end estate wines, Beringer’s solid quality regional wines are sometimes overlooked.   The 2012 Sauvignon Blanc from Napa Valley is a regional (all the fruit is from Napa) wine we should not overlook.   Starting with a bright yellow color in the glass, the Sauv Blanc offers fresh aromas of citrus and a hint of grass.   A sip reveals a medium bodied, juicy mouthful of nicely balanced citrus, especially lime and melon, ending with a nicely fresh, not-too-crisp finish.   The Wine Advocate awarded a score of 89 to this wine – if considering the value of this $10.99 bottle; I would push that up to 90 points using a similar scale.   This is a wine that will be useful all summer long, on porches, decks and in backyards with light bites and fish dishes!   (PLCB Code: 33239 Beringer Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley 2012 $10.99 Orig. $16.00)

Sebastiani Merlot Sonoma County 2010 – For years Sonoma County winemakers have offered fine alternatives, often more affordably, to the more hyped Napa wines.   Others have suggested that Sonoma is more ‘relaxed’ than the more tightly-wound-tourist-focused Napa region.   With no science to decide on these suggestions, we can only judge on a case by case basis.   In this case, the Sebastiani Merlot Sonoma County 2010 is a laid back, fruit-driven, rewarding red wine that deserves some attention at this Chairman’s Selection price point!   Sometimes surprises are welcome, but other times a consistent performer that delivers exactly what you expected is even more rewarding… and this Merlot delivers the full-figured, mouth-filling, lush, dark fruit that one would hope to find in a California Merlot.   Just shy of being over-the-top (in recent years many CA reds have suffered from off-putting over-rich flavors), this Merlot hits the flavor targets and oak-balance very nicely.    If you are grilling cheese burgers with friends and need a firm red to accompany, this Merlot will do the job!   Tons available, but grab some before it sells out!     (PLCB Code: 33258 Sebastiani Merlot Sonoma County 2010 $10.99  Orig. $18.00)

Screaming Good Deal – Best $7.99 red wine in Pennsylvania right now – Anciano Tempranillo Reserva 2004, aged 7 years, from Valdepeñas

Bold words but happily uttered….   I had to try this wine the moment I noticed it was for sale.   Last year I was fortunate to try the 2001 Anciano Gran Reserva Tempranillo (aged 10 years) and found it to be quite a fine and nicely aged wine – and for the money (under $20) it was a fantastic deal.    Hence I could not wait to get my hands on another Anciano product, in this case a 7 year aged Reserva (one level below the Gran Reserva) priced at only $7.99!  (Anciano Reserva Aged 7 years Tempranillo 2004 Spain PLCB Code #33272 $7.99).   These Anciano wines hail from Spain’s south central region of Valdepenas (surrounded by the larger region called La Mancha).   Valdepenas is less well known when compared to other Spanish regions like Rioja or Ribera del Duero, but this brings more competitive pricing for the chalky-soiled, hot region red wines of Valdepenas.   Additionally (as if we needed more reasons to try another bottle) 2004 is acknowledged as one of the best Spanish vintages of the past 20 years, so we know the grapes were healthy before they became this wine!

Unlike most wine producers around the world who release wines shortly after bottling (leaving aging decisions up to consumers), Spanish producers continue the tradition of barrel and bottle aging their wines at the winery prior to release.   This Reserva was treated to at least 24 moths in Oak Barrels, followed by five more years in bottle… the result is a softer, more complex wine with fewer of the sharp edges common to younger wines.

This wine comes in an attractive and old-world looking package featuring a red label and gold wire mesh covering the entire bottle which suggests a more expensive bottle than it is.   The nose is slow to show, but features red fruits and a little strawberry and vanilla.   The mouth feel is warm and soft, light to medium bodied – the flavors attack softly, a common feature for aged Tempranillo, but quickly form generous earthy flavors of red fruits, savory spices, leather and a hint of balsamic followed by a very persistent and smooth spicy finish.   This wine would pair nicely with grilled meats and mature cheeses but I will save my next bottle for a piece of blackened salmon!  Although this wine might age longer, I would drink sooner than later.   For my money, this is the best $7.99 red in Pennsylvania’s State Store System – serve it at your next grill/dinner event and impress your friends while you save money!

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South American Wines at e2 Restaurant

Despite the (never ending) wintry weather – everyone showed up last evening to learn about some South American wines at Chef Kate Romane’s e2 Restaurant (www.e2pgh.com).   Our go-to staffers (Adam and Will) were ready for us, but we got extra help from attendees Kate, Lee, and Susan who helped get the tables arranged and ready for the entire group (I thank them for their help!) – We had a community feel from the start, which is always nice!

To kick things off, we talked about the Chilean and Argentine wine industries which date back to the mid-1500s (a solid 300 years before we had much wine industry in California) while we tasted an Argentine Sparkling wine from Mendoza.  In attendance was a retired bank executive who lived in Argentina in the 1960s and shared stories about bringing great Argentine wines back to the US every time he returned, and also a Peruvian couple who noted correctly that the original Chilean grapevines were brought through Peru centuries ago.   Despite the incredibly long history of making wine in Chile and Argentina, winemaking as we think about it today made its transition to modern-style production in the mid 1800s after the introduction of French wine grapes.  Since then the ups and downs of politics and economics have affected winemakers, but great improvement has taken place in the past 20-30 years.  

Our goal last night was to taste the wines individually, then taste all the wines with food and assess the differences and note improvements or degradations in flavor/experience.    Our dinner menu included:   short ribs in a smoky tomato braise, a dirty risotto with pancetta, hot peppers and mushrooms, romaine and arugula salad, chocolate bread pudding for dessert with berry mess

A lively discussion followed and everyone seemed to enjoy the combination of foods and wines, especially the Lapostolle Clos Apalta, which by far was the most expensive wine on the table, but in my opinion is a special wine, and two people said it was the best wine they had ever had… so pleased we could include it in the event!   Here are notes and prices for the wines:

Santa Julia Pinot Noir Rose Brut NV, Mendoza Argentina (PLCB 17019  $11.99) – 100% Pinot Noir, Maipú and Uco Valley vineyards, Mendoza, Argentina, Charmat method, second fermentation at 14°C, Creamy, fresh, red fruit delicate flavors.

Cono Sur Sauvignon Blanc Reserva Especial 2012, Casablanca Valley Chile (PLCB 46536 $12.99) – 100% Sauvignon Blanc  (Grape used in Sancerre and BDX blends), Valle de Casablanca – Mineral Soils and red clay, Crisp and fresh, slight grassy nose with grapefruit and citrus flavors – clean finish.  W&S90, A delightful wine part-way between the light crisp Euro SB and the face-puckering NZ or full figured CA SBs

Vina Cobos Felino Chardonnay 2011, Mendoza Argentina (PLCB 39322 $18.99 ) – 100% Chardonnay  (White Burgundy Grape), From American winemaker Paul Hobbs, 95% aged in Stainless Steel, 5% Oak, Distinctly “new world” Rich tropical pineapple and peach flavors with medium weight . RP88. Hotter, arid desert = very different chardonnay compared to cool weather Burgundy, Score too low in my opinion, I would award solid 90pts.

Bodega Norton Malbec Reserve 2011, Mendoza Argentina (PLCB regular item 7019 $18.99) – 100 % Malbec , a blending Grape of Bordeaux, and main grape of Cahors France, #36 Wine Spectator Top 100 of 2013  WS92 100% French Oak aged 12months (50% new), Deep dark purple color, black fruits, violets and tobacco,  World Malbec Day = April 17th Jancis Robinson says Malbec = a more rustic Merlot.  Bodega Norton founded 1885 by Englishman Sir Edmund James Norton who was in Chile/Arg to build railway bridges, but loved the region and founded Norton – Norton family owned Bodega until purchased by Swarovski in 1989, huge investments in quality and commercial success have followed.

Lapostolle Clos Apalta Colchagua Valley 2009, Colchagua Valley, Chile (PLCB 31420  $79.99) – 78% Carmenere, 19% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Petit Verdot, Bordeaux Grapes – until recent DNA tracing tests, much of Chile’s Carmenere was thought to be Merlot,  2005 vintage (same 96pts score) ranked #1 on the Wine Spectator’s Top 100 Wines of 2008.   Inky dark color, polished and complex herbal, earthy dark fruit and spicy flavors, a special wine that shows sometimes money spent on a wine is rewarded by quality!    Alexandra Marnier-Lapostolle (founder of Lapostolle in 1994) in Chile is great granddaughter of Grand Marnier creator in France.   World famous winemaker Michel Rolland has been winemaker for every vintage since 1994.   Family still owns an estate in Sancerre.

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First ever PLCB sale!

For our friends in Pennsylvania, be sure to check out the PLCB stores in the next two days.   The PA Liquor Control Board is trying a sale for the first time ever!

For two days (Thursday and Friday Feb 13, 14), four sparklers will be offered at 25% off their retail price.   I hope that PA Consumers will clear the shelves of these sparklers to show the state that we in Pennsylvania have an appetite for good value!

Here are the sparklers on sale:

Veuve d’Argent Brut NV   Code: 32861 Quoted at $14.99…Save $4.00  Price: $10.99  Sale: $7.99    Served at Quantum Theatre GRAPENUTS Night last week!!!   Full write up is in last posting below, but this is a solid sparkling value that would provide a great starter to a party!

Juve Y Camps Cinta Purpura Demi-Sec NV  Code: 32913 Quoted at $18.00*….Save $6.01 Price: $11.99    Sale: $8.99   A sweeter version of traditional Spanish Cava from region just outside of Barcelona.   A fine pairing for desserts – and since Valentines Day is upon us, who doesn’t like some sweet bubbles with dessert?!?!

De Chanceny Vouvray Brut Excellence 2011  Code: 32980 Quoted at $20.00*….Save $6.01 Price: $13.99   Sale: $10.49 *89 points Wine Spectator Online, 2013  – –   This is a fine example of Chenin Blanc made into bubbly!   (who says Chardonnay is the best white grape for sparkling wine?).   This sparkler is fuller bodied, richer flavored yet drier than many inexpensive French sparklers – a good value in an attractive bottle – try this on Valentines Day and your date should be impressed by the bubbly AND your keen eye for value!

 

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