Celebrate 2018 with Sparkler!

Please have no Vino-Stress!
So many stressors enter into our lives during the Holidays – but wine need not be one of them!   Below are a few hopefully helpful thoughts and some recommendations for Holiday meals and merriment.

(Skip to the bottom if you just want to go shopping for bubbly.)

Should I put white wine in ice to chill it?  NO.  Presumably you purchased the wine because you enjoy white wine aromas and flavors – unfortunately, ice-cold temperatures tend to mask fruit flavors (sometimes restaurants hyper-chill white wines intentionally because they WANT to mask flavors of cheap wines – ugh).   One rule of thumb is to think about how rich and full-bodied the wine is, and adjust the temperature target up or down accordingly.   If the wine is big and rich, I might aim for cellar-temperature or slightly below – while a light bodied white is fine to come straight from the fridge – but I never soak a white wine in ice.

Best way to chill Champagne or Sparkling wine?  ICE BATH!  Place a bottle into a Champagne Bucket/soup pot/hotel sink/bathtub (any vessel, you get my drift), then fill with ice, then add water until the bottle is ‘swimming’ – come back in 25-35 minutes, serve and enjoy!

Broad disagreement exists on how cold to serve bubbly – I fall solidly into the camp of pouring it very cold, so the effervescence and mousse feature most prominently, and then enjoy flavor expansion as the sparkler warms slightly in the glass.  This works well with a dry (Extra Brut or Brut) style bubbly – sweeter (with titles like: Extra Dry, Demi Sec) sparklers may become cloying and ‘sticky’ if temperature rises too much.

Decant Red Wine?  DEPENDS…  Young and rich = YES / Cellared and delicate = NO.  Most wines are consumed within a day or two of purchase, which means red wine will be a recent vintage (less than 5 years old).  For young red wines, especially full bodied, rich, or tannic reds like those from California, decanting is beneficial to the wine as the breathing allows tannins to calm and overall flavors to become more harmonious.   Older, more delicate reds may not benefit from decanting as the flavors may fall off prematurely, leaving the wine hollow and disappointing.

Food Pairing? NO WORRIES!  Many wine enthusiasts (this one included!) take food and wine pairing efforts very seriously – but when it comes to holiday celebrations, the happiness of the whole gathering far outweighs the need for perfect pairings.  So, if your cousin’s eldest uncle-in-law loves him some giant California Cabernet with his poached white fish, let him enjoy it!

Wine-leftovers?  YES!  Leftover wine can be capped with their original cork pushed partway back in, or with a rubber wine bottle-stopper.   If refrigerated, partly full whites may keep as long as a week, and reds 3-4 days without flavors going off.

How to choose a good bubbly?  Champagne is the standard, and often the most expensive.   If your gathering is important, why not go big?  A couple are mentioned below, but it sure is hard to go wrong with the big names like Veuve Cliquot, Mumm, Moet (and if you feel fancy Krug, Dom, and Salon!).  On the other hand, a more casual gathering is quite well-served by non-Champagne sparkling wines.   Many are made with same grapes and techniques as true Champagne, but not in the region of Champagne which means often there are good values to be had.  As a lover of Champagne but lacking an Oligarch’s budget, I seek out French sparklers labeled “Cremant” which indicates a sparkling wine made with highly regulated techniques nearly as stringent as Champagne itself, the results are typically quite satisfying and present great value.   Italy proudly produces tons of fruity, affordable Prosecco and smaller amounts of (some say) more refined and more expensive Franciacorta.   Spain creates massive amounts of affordable dry, light-weight, slightly herbal Cava sparklers – some of them reaching toward Champagne levels of quality.  Other regions like Tasmania, New Zealand, South Africa, Argentina and even New Mexico in US are enjoying great sparkling wine success in recent years, don’t hesitate to try them!

Non-Vintage or Vintage? NON-VINTAGE!  While vintage sparkler has the potential to deliver fantastically complex flavors, Non-Vintage (or NV) sparklers are more consistent, produced in larger quantities, and sold more quickly than Vintage, so less chance for inconsistency.  For reveling and celebration, the sparkler’s quality should never preoccupy the host – I’d go NV.

Here are some nice party wines to share with festive friends:

Anna de Codorniu Blanc de Blanc Cava

Penedes, Spain 
PLCB Code# 9447

Anna de Codorniu Cava honors the Codorníu heiress who married viticulturist Miquel Raventós in 1659.  Anna is credited for being the first to use the Champagne grape Chardonnay in Cava.   This cuvee combines standard Cava blend of Xerello, Macabau and Parellada with a significant helping (70%) of Chardonnay.  The resulting sparkler is delicate and flavorful, with light effervescence carrying apple and pear flavors backed by a hint of herbal notes. 70% Chardonnay 15% Parellada 15%Macabeo/Xarel-lo.  Lovely sparkler, great value!

Maison Aguila Cremant de Limoux Brut NV
Limoux, France 
PLCB Code# 78624 

Situated in the southeastern corner of France very close to the Spanish border, the Limoux region is known for quality sparkling wines.  In fact, some in Limoux claim their sparkling production method was pioneered more than 100 years prior to the Monk Dom Perignon who is credited for creating Champagne.  Historical claims notwithstanding, this sparkler (containing 65% Chardonnay, 25% Chenin Blanc, and 10% Mauzac) provides more floral nose than expected and a bursting mouthful of sharp green apple and undercurrent pear/citrus flavors supported by laser-cut acidity and persistent finish.  Might pass for much more expensive sparkler in blind tasting!  In a recent newsletter I rated this sparkler 91 Points.

Gruet Brut NV
$16.99 Sale Price: $14.99 
New Mexico, USA
PLCB Code# 1476

Produced in New Mexico from traditional Champagne grapes, in traditional Champagne methods, founded in 1980s by historic Champagne family Gruet.  This is a perennial favorite and widely available and comprised of 75% Chardonnay and 25% Pinot Noir.  If you show up with the consistently solid Gruet Brut or Gruet Blanc de Noir NV (100% Pinot Noir PLCB Code# 49664 $17.99) the party will thank you!  I have used both of these sparklers in countless events and consistently rate them a good value.  Recently the Brut was awarded 90 points and included in the Wine Spectator Top 100 values of 2016.
Domaine La Grande Cote Cremant de Bourgogne NV
Burgundy, France 
PLCB Code# 99251 

Domaine La Grande Cote Cremant de Bourgogne NV – Produced in the far northern Burgundy region of Chatillonnais (closest to Champagne itself).  Vinified from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir (similar to Champagne) that are grown in chalky, soils (similar to Champagne), so no surprise that this Cremant exhibits traits commonly associated with Champagne – moussy apple, stone fruits, a touch of red fruits and minerality, followed by some toasty notes at the finish.  Light to medium bodied and sophisticated.

Champagne Moutard Grande Cuvee Brut NV 
Champagne, France 
PLCB Code# 48025 

Moutard’s Champagne house is located in the Cote de Bar region, which is the most southeast wine producing region of Champagne.  This is a Blanc de Noir (Pinot Noir only) champagne and solid value in the category.  Fortunate for us the PLCB saw fit to bring this to Pennsylvanians at an affordable (for real Champagne) price.  I am a dedicated fan of this Champagne, with its red apple and ginger-ish flavors wrapped in bright, fresh effervescence.  Wine and Spirits Magazine has rated this 92 points and I awarded 91 points in previous tasting.
Other American makers produce quite superior sparkling wines but many are more expensive than the choices in this newsletter, so while I don’t point them out specifically, names like SchramsbergArgyleMumm Napa (G.H. Mumm) Domaine Carneros (Taittinger), Chandon (Moet & Chandon), Gloria Ferrer, and Iron Horse all produce consistently good product.  Domaine Ste. Michelle has created good value sparkler at more affordable price points, outshining the likes of historically popular Korbell and upstart brand Barefoot Bubbly.
Big name Champagne: ALL GOOD – seriously!   The “Big House” Champagnes as I call them are hugely successful because they uniformly work (and have for years!) very hard at producing a consistent flavor profile and hitting that target year after year.  These big makers (Moet & Chandon, Veuve Clicquot, Nicolas Feuillatte, G.H. Mumm. Laurent-Perrier, Taittinger, Pommery and Piper-Heidsieck) may be more expensive than lesser-known makers, and possibly less interesting (due to consistent uniformity – which is often a good thing) than some small producer Champagnes, but they won’t disappoint!   I tend to favor Taittinger because it is owned by the Taittingerfamily (not a large luxury goods corporation like many others).

Iconic Champagnes: Dom Perignon, Krug, Ace of Spades, Chrystal, Salon and the like can cost hundreds of dollars and impress people because the bottle was in a movie or a music video – and clearly the product is impressive, but for seasonal celebrating, and purchase from a state run liquor store, I would hesitate to spend so much money not knowing how the sparkler has been transported and stored (and how long).   That said, if the occasion is special, any of the iconic Champagnes will make the occasion special-er!


October 2017 Chairman’s Selection reviews

Greetings!   Lots of solid values in the latest Chairman’s haul – hope you find something interesting!

Maison Aguila Cremant de Limoux Brut NV
Limoux, France 
PLCB Code# 78624 (In stores now)

“Yeast and toast on the nose. Apple and citrus, with elegant mouthfeel and caressing bubbles.” Steve Pollack, wine buyer for the Chairman’s Selection® program

Why this is good value: Situated in the southeastern corner of France very close to the Spanish border, the Limoux region is known for sparkling wines and some claim created their production method more than 100 years prior to the Monk Dom Perignon created Champagne.  Historical claims notwithstanding, this sparkler (containing 65% Chardonnay, 25% Chenin Blanc, and 10% Mauzac) provides more floral nose than expected and a bursting mouthful of sharp green apple and undercurrent pear/citrus flavors supported by laser-cut acidity and persistent finish.  Might pass for much more expensive sparkler in blind tasting! 91 Points Jack Brice  



Terra Corsa Rose 2016
Corsica, France
PLCB Code# 78723 (560 cases expected in October)“Pale orange.  Warm red fruit and orange pith scents and flavors are accompanied by a subtle herbal flourish.  Smooth and broad, offering good heft, solid punch and a touch of peppery spice on the finish.” 88 Points Vinous Media, August 2017
Why this is good value:  A very interesting rose wine made from 85% Niellucciu (an indigenous Corsican grape, thought to be closely related to the famous Tuscan grape Sangiovese) and 15% Grenache.  The nose features light berry aromas leading to flavors of strawberry, cherry and citrus – all packaged with intensity and solid acidity (much like what one might expect from a Sangiovese-based rose produced in Tuscany).  Perfect inexpensive rose for the remaining warm days of the Autumn (or Thanksgiving turkey!).  88 Points Jack Brice



Sokol Blosser Pinot Gris 2014 
Willamette Valley, Oregon 
PLCB Code# 34629 (1,000 cases in stores now)“Dense and textural, this immediately displays a strong minerality, in its mouthfeel and racy freshness. It further amplifies the tart, tight fruit flavors of apple and citrus, grapefruit and pineapple.” 90 Points Wine Enthusiast, August 1, 2016
Why this is good value: Yellow in the glass with distinct tropical aroma – this Pinot Gris delivers smooth new-world-style tropical and candied pineapple flavors in lush medium body with slight orange rind finish.  89 Points Jack Brice





Olivier Lebrin Chateau de L’Aujardiere Muscadet Sur Lie 2016 
Loire Valley, France 
PLCB Code# 78690 (1,500 cases in stores now)“Crisp and clean with citrus and sea salt flavors.” Steve Pollack, wine buyer for the Chairman’s Selection® program
Why this is good value: Light straw color with intense bright citrus aromas – lightly textured with slight creaminess wrapping around fresh lemon and mineral flavors.   Other good quality Muscadet wines are currently for sale in the Chairman’s program, this is one of my favorites. 89 Points Jack Brice





Cave de Beblenheim Oscar Truschel Particuliere Riesling Reserve 2015

Alsace, France
PLCB Code# 78632 (800 cases in stores now)

“Pretty apple and lemon drop. Perfect acid balance in a refreshing, crisp finish.” Steve Pollack, wine buyer for the Chairman’s Selection® program

Why this is good value: Light straw color, lots of aromatic citrus in the nose.  Light but intense mouthfeel with trademark Riesling apple and citrus flavors showing light sweetness in the mid palate, followed by balanced acidity at the finish. Don’t let the long name intimidate… this is a nice example at a good price.   90 Points Jack Brice





Clos LaChance Chardonnay Pure 2016 
Monterrey County, California
PLCB Code# 78673 (2,000 cases in stores now)“Lemon and citrus flavors, quite rich and ripe.” Steve Pollack, wine buyer for the Chairman’s Selection® program
Why this is good value: Solid yellow color, with aromas of Meyer lemon – this is not a shy or subtle wine!  Medium to full body, the smooth and viscous mouthfeel may lack complexity but delivers tons of baked apple pie and citrus flavors – solidly new-world in style, this Chardonnay imitates more expensive California Chardonnays and provides lots of flavor for a modest price.  89 Points Jack Brice





The Tradesman Chardonnay Dionysus Vineyard Columbia Valley 2016

Columbia Valley, Washington
PLCB Code# 78687 (1,700 cases in stores now)

“Peach, apple, pear and mineral notes, pure and elegant in the mouth.  A really special Chardonnay.” Steve Pollack, wine buyer for the Chairman’s Selection® program

Why this is good value: Light yellow, clear color in glass, with reluctant mineral and lemon aromas.  Flavors start with a juicy burst of apple and finish with citrus and a little oak spice – all nicely balanced and more sophisticated than expected at this price point.   90 Points Jack Brice





Jean Cavaille Apremont Cep Noir Vielles Vignes 2016

Savoie, France
PLCB Code# 78524  (800 cases ETA October)

“Stone fruit with fresh acidity and bright citrus flavors.” Steve Pollack, wine buyer for the Chairman’s Selection® program

Why this is good value: Produced in France’s Savoie region, so close to Switzerland the ‘Swiss Cross’ is regularly included on the wine labels.  100% Jacquere grapes are used to create this light, interesting white wine.   Delicate aromas of lime and lemon with complex flavors of white fruits and almonds – a sophisticated wine, great to be enjoyed with lighter fish dishes.   90 Points JackBrice





Di Giovanna Nero d’Avola 2015

Sicily, Italy
PLCB Code# 78718 (600 cases in stores now)

“Dark plum and black fruits combine with a licorice and cherry spice note. Balanced and quite rich. Outstanding price!” Steve Pollack, wine buyer for the Chairman’s Selection® program

Why this is good value: Wow – Dense, dark color with black fruit aromas and some spice.  Flavors are black fruits with textured chalky cherry notes.  This wine delivers firmly structured Nero d’Avola flavors and mouthfeel with tannin on the finish – more depth than expected at this price.  Another wine value from Sicily!   90 Points Jack Brice





Sogrape Silk and Spice Red Blend Portugal 2015

PLCB Code# 78675 (In stores now)

“This blend of wines from Dão, Bairrada and Lisboa is ripe, full of black fruits and with subtle signs of the wood aging. Named to celebrate the Portuguese mariners who sailed to the spice islands of the East Indies, it is warm with its own spiciness as well as a juicy aftertaste. Drink now.” 90 points and a ‘Best Buy’ Wine Enthusiast, June 1, 2017

Why this is good value: Dark and dense like many Portuguese reds with plum and vanilla aromas.  This red is soft in the mouth with sweet mid-palate grapey fruits that remind me of many inexpensive central coast California wines (so popular by-the-glass in restaurants).  Smooth finish – easy drinking and inoffensive (in a good way)!  88 Points Jack Brice




Rock Point Pinot Noir 2015

PLCB Code# 78686 (600 cases in stores now)

“Brambly with dark plum and cherry cola with layers of red fruit.  Soft and elegant.” Steve Pollack, wine buyer for the Chairman’s Selection® program

Why this is good value: Dark red color with aromas of ripe red fruits.  Mouthfeel is smooth and lush with flavors of sweet cherry and spice on the finish.   A good price for a solid Oregon Pinot Noir.   88 Points Jack Brice





Domaine Les Verrieres Red Languedoc 2014

Languedoc, France
PLCB Code# 78653 (2,000 cases in stores now)

“Sinewy and savory, with dried strawberry, apricot and raspberry notes underpinned by herb, earth and spice notes. Shows power and focus. Syrah, Grenache, Carignan. Drink now through 2020.”  90 Points Wine Spectator, Dec 16, 2016

Why this is good value: Among so many red wines defaulting to weight over finesse and power, here is a pleasing red wine that won’t outweigh the food (but certainly not a wimpy wine!).   This is an earthy red blended from typical Rhone grapes (noted above), the raspberry and floral red fruit notes flow through to a balanced and slightly savory finish.  Nice not-too-heavy red!  90 Points Jack Brice




Pezat Bordeaux Superieur Reserve 2014

Bordeaux, France
PLCB Code# 20759 (In stores now)

“Lovely nose here with orange rind, mushrooms and hints of licorice. Juicy and round with silky tannins and a bright finish. Drink now.”  90 points James Suckling, February 2017

Why this is good value:  Produced by big-name proprietor of iconic Bordeaux wines, this is the Maltus value-market wine.  Created with typical Right-Bank Bordeaux blend of 85% Merlot and 15% Cabernet Franc. This offering shows red fruits on the nose, juicy attack with classic Bordeaux earthy flavors in a light to middle weight frame.  Fresh, slightly tannic finish with even tempered flavors throughout.  What is lacking in weight is compensated in juicy, earthy fruit flavors!  88 Points Jack Brice




Familia Zuccardi Q Malbec 2015

Mendoza, Argentina
PLCB Code# 78697 (2,400 cases in stores now)

“…There is good ripeness and depth here, a mixture of red and black fruit with some spiciness and hints of rockrose and wild herbs.  The palate is medium-bodied, with very nice balance, fine-grained tannin and very good length.”  91 Points Wine Advocate, Dec 30, 2016

Why this is good value: Malbec is still a popular restaurant by-the-glass wine due to its low cost and consistent quality.  Zuccardi’s Q Malbec offering provides dark fruit aromas with slightly floral, inky, black fruit flavors bordering on olive/savory notes.   Finish is solid with some tannin.  If looking for a Malbec, this is a good target.  90 Points Jack Brice




Chateau Malbec Bordeaux 2014
Bordeaux, France
PLCB Code# 31966 (Specialty Stores)

“Superb intense and very inviting aromas of sweet cassis black fruit, warm spicy oak and coffee. Lovely, mouth-filling palate of glossy delicious black fruit and well judged oak giving an appealing spicy undercurrent. Superb wine.” Platinum Award Winner 95 Points Decanter Magazine

Why this is good value: Despite the Chateau Malbec name (named after a regional Governor family of the late 1700s… not the grape) this wine contains only 5% Malbec – but that is ok, since the wine turned out very well!  Dark purple in the glass with spice aromas, the wine contains 75% Merlot, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Cabernet Franc and the aforementioned 5% Malbec with 50% of the wine aged 14 months in oak prior to bottling.   Medium bodied, this red delivers broad flavors of polished black fruits leaning toward savoriness and cassis flavors flowing into a spicy finish.   All elements are in fine balance which makes the wine most satisfying.  92 Points Jack Brice



Z’ivo Pinot Noir Eola Amity Hills 2012

Willamette Valley, Oregon
PLCB Code# 78695 (850 cases in stores now)

“Sleek and vibrant, with floral and beet overtones to red berry and plum notes.  Shows presence and pretty flavors that linger.  Drink now through 2020.”  91 Points Wine Spectator, Feb 28, 2015

Why this is good value: Rich plum-red color in the glass, with red floral fruit aromas – flavors are full of rich red fruit and cherry, raspberry and light spice notes, the finish holds well.   A fine value wine from Oregon’s famously successful 2012 vintage.  90 Points Jack Brice




Precision Cabernet Sauvignon Napa 2014
Napa Valley, California
PLCB Code# 78717 (700 Cases in stores now)

“This wine is medium to full-bodied, brimming with flavors of black cherries, blueberries and plums along with notes of bramble, violets and vanilla.” Winemaker’s notes

“Elegant and Polished.”  Steve Pollack, wine buyer for the Chairman’s Selection® program

Why this is good value: Lovely Napa Valley Cabernet characteristics – brambly nose with some violet notes – flavors are expansive and lush featuring blackberry, currant, cherry, oak and vanilla finishing with sweet tannin.  Exactly as one expects from modern Napa Cabernet!  91 Points Jack Brice


Havens Cabernet Sauvignon Spring Mountain Napa Valley 2013
Spring Mountain, Napa Valley, California
PLCB Code# 78664 (250 Cases in stores now)

“A sexy offering from Havens, the 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon Spring Mountain has a ruby/purple color with sweet creme de cassis fruit and floral notes. The wine is medium to full-bodied, luscious, elegant and pure. Drink it over the next 10-12 years.”  91 points Wine Advocate, December 31, 2015

Why this is good value: Spring Mountain district is famous for wines of significant depth with accompanying higher cost due to the relatively small production from the steep, difficult to farm, slopes of the Mayacamas Mountains above Napa Valley.   A Spring Mountain Cabernet is a treat – this one, offered by Havens from purchased fruit delivers on the expectations.  Deep color and violet aromas with super dense flavor packed into a medium to full structure, all nicely in balance.   Very nice wine, better in 2-5 years.  92 Points Jack Brice

Chairman’s Selection Preview Tasting March 2017

Last week I was invited to join PLCB wine experts and the Chairman Selection team for a tasting of Chairman Selection wines.   Wines that I feel offer value and interesting characteristics are listed below.   Some wines have external ratings, which are included where possible – otherwise I include comments from Steve Pollack, the head of the Chairman’s program and my own comments outlining why I see value in the wine.
Hopefully you will find something interesting in these selections:

Firriato Altavilla della Corte Grillo Sicilia 2015
Sicily, Italy
PLCB Code# 78455
“Aromatic, with orange blossom and spice notes, offering flavors of pink grapefruit granita and Thai basil. Light-bodied and fresh, presenting a citrusy finish. Drink now.”  – 87 points Wine Spectator, Sept 30, 2016
Why this is good value: “Another fine Firriato Sicilian value – aromas are delicate and closed when chilled, but after a few minutes in the glass the floral notes start to blossom.  Flavors include mostly citrus with underpinning of peach and some tropical notes – finish is crisp with a savory hint and fine freshness.  An all but forgotten Sicilian grape that has found new popularity in the past 20 years, this wine offers something an interesting alternative to lovers of Sauvignon Blanc, and at this price a great value to all!” 89 Points Jack Brice

Fattori Danieli Soave Veneto DOC 2015 
Veneto, Italy
PLCB Code# 78524  (1,500 cases released March 1st)
“When the grape Garganega is produced correctly, Soave can be stunning. I agree with the winemaker’s notes. Fresh fruit, flowers, spice and perfume. Try with baked cod or flounder. Serve chilled not ice cold.”   – Steve Pollack, wine buyer for the Chairman’s Selection® program
Why this is good value: “Soave is a favorite light-weight, summery white from the Veneto region of Northern Italy.   This 2015 Fattori Soave is full of spicy citrus and peach flavors while remaining light on the palate – a great way to avoid getting lost in the Pinot Grigio crowd” 87 Points Jack Brice

The Coorong Reserve Chardonnay 2016
South Eastern Australia
PLCB Code# 78568  (3,500 cases to be released April 5th)
“Orange Mandarin, tangerine, with honey and spice.  A deliciously ripe and tropical moderately oaked Chardonnay.  Exceptional!”  – Steve Pollack, wine buyer for the Chairman’s Selection® program
Why this is good value: “I tasted light citrus with a healthy dose of green and baked apple followed by a light oak-spice finish.   This is a light, fruit-driven Chardonnay that does not scream geographic origin, but certainly provides a nice sipper that won’t cause offense for $9.99.”  87 Points Jack Brice

d’Arenberg The Hermit Crab Viognier Marsanne 2015
McLaren Vale, Australia
PLCB Code# 78563  (1,200 cases to be released March 29th)
“This is medium to full in body and rounded in the mouth, with loads of yellow plum and ripe pineapple flavors.  It’s not the most complex wine, but offers a satisfying mouthful of fruit and solid length.  Drink now.”  – 89 Points Wine Enthusiast, April 1 2017
Why this is good value: “A fine offering year after year, d’Arenberg finds a way to provide good wine at a fine price yet again with The Hermit Crab – an oddly named but satisfying Rhone-style white blend (58% Viognier, 42% Marsanne) with peach and pear flavors delivered in a medium bodied package.  Serve as an alternative to Chardonnay.”  90 Points Jack Brice

Atalon Sauvignon Blanc Napa 2014
Napa Valley, California
PLCB Code# 78610  (3,000 cases scheduled release April 8th)
“Grass, gooseberry and grapefruit wind their way around a light-bodied, crisp and ephemeral wine, aged mostly in stainless steel, with a small percentage in neutral French oak.  Tiny bits of Semillon and Sauvignon Musque make their way into the mix, for a wine that’s textured and refreshing”  – 89 Points Wine Enthusiast, May 1 2016
Why this is good value: “Aromas of grapefruit and grass, Light to medium bodied with flavors of lemon, lime and pear.   This is a satisfying white that checks the boxes of Napa Sauvignon Blanc without over-reaching ripeness – unusual to find a balanced Napa white at this price.”  89 Points Jack Brice

Chateau Virant Coteaux d’Aix en Provence Rose 2015
Provence, France
PLCB Code# 78578  (2,500 cases)
“A beautifully balanced, crisp rose showing sweet watermelon and red fruit, tightened up by crisp acidity!”  – Steve Pollack, wine buyer for the Chairman’s Selection® program
Why this is good value: “Rose is one of America’s fastest growing wine varieties, and Provence is the epicenter of ‘rose culture’ – this Chateau Virant hits the mark with light strawberry and melon notes wrapped up in a crisp, mouth-watering finish.   There are many new rose wines in the market, but why go elsewhere?”  88 Points Jack Brice

Domaine des Carteresses Rose Tavel 2015
Rhone, France
PLCB Code# 78582  (1,176 cases scheduled release April 8th)
“This is ripe, round and lush.  Cherry-scented goodness leads the way, accented by hints of cracked pepper, cinnamon and allspice that linger elegantly on the finish.”  – 92 Points Wine Enthusiast, August 1, 2016 and #72 in Top 100 of 2016
Why this is good value: “This is a big rose.  The Southern Rhone is famous for big rustic wines and Tavel may be the most well-known Rhone Rose producer.   Tons of cherry aroma and flavors with solid spicy underpinnings form a big-framed rose wine (with untypical for rose 14% alcohol).   Those who are a fan of Tavel will likely not find another at this price.”  90 Points Jack Brice

Reserve de Bonpas Cotes du Rhone 2015
Southern Rhone, France
PLCB Code# 78516  (3,200 cases released March 8th)
“Ripe roasted allspice, salted meat, and raspberry jam flavors. A beautifully lush, ripe Cotes du Rhone. A must-try!”- Steve Pollack, wine buyer for the Chairman’s Selection® program
Why this is good value: “Cotes du Rhone wines often provide a great deal of fruit-driven flavor for good value – the Bonpas is no exception – lots of red raspberry and cherry fruit flavors supported by spice and savory olive flavors.   This may be too rustic for some but it provides lots of old-school Rhone flavor for the price.”  87 Points Jack Brice

Villa Cavallo Toscana 2006
Tuscany, Italy
PLCB Code# 78562  (1,500 cases to be released April 5th)
“Sandalwood, roasted plum and cranberry with hints of cedar and balanced wood notes.  Finishes long and balanced with spice and antique dust.”- Steve Pollack, wine buyer for the Chairman’s Selection® program
Why this is good value: “Wow – where to start… A 2006 vintage red that is neither too old nor too young.  The bottle age afforded this wine time to balance flavors and tannin, resulting in a lush, soft mouth feel featuring plum, red fruit and leather flavors that move smoothly into a smooth, slightly woody finish.  A good opportunity to taste what bottle age does for a humble Tuscan red!”  90 Points Jack Brice

Firriato Altavilla della Corte Syrah Terre Siciliane 2013
Sicily, Italy
PLCB Code# 78456  (1,000 cases released February 15th)
“Ripe cherry and berry fruit followed by an earth spice note, finishes with a hint of vanilla extract. Very good!”  – Steve Pollack, wine buyer for the Chairman’s Selection® program
Why this is good value: “Syrah grapes in France’s Rhone region benefiting from warm, dry, hot summers and rocky soil contribute to some of the world’s most sought after wines – similar climate and rocky soils in Sicily help the Syrah grape to mature into exceptionally pleasing wines.   The Firriato Syrah is dark ruby red, with aromas of raspberry and vanilla.   After some breathing, the wine comes to life with broad textured mouthful of dark red fruits with elements of spice and tannin.”  90 Points Jack Brice

Toad Hollow Pinot Noir Russian River Valley Goldie’s Vineyard 2013
Russian River Valley, California
PLCB Code# 78628  (1,232 cases to be released April 26th)
“Pretty plum and raspberry-cherry.  Soft and velvety.  Toad Hollow puts together an impressive Pinot Noir in this bottling.”  – Steve Pollack, wine buyer for the Chairman’s Selection® program
Why this is good value: “Smooth texture with sweet cherry and plum followed by a hint of cranberry.  Russian River Valley is known for ‘California-style’ warm-weather Pinot Noir and this wine delivers on those rich flavors and textures at a good price.”  89 Points Jack Brice

Fathom Cabernet Sauvignon Horse Heaven Hills 2015
Columbia Valley, Washington
PLCB Code# 78609  (2,800 cases to be released April 12th)
“Cocoa powder, coffee, cherry and anise.  Ripe and elegant.  A superbly balanced Cabernet from Washington State.  Excellent.”  – Steve Pollack, wine buyer for the Chairman’s Selection® program
Why this is good value: “This Cabernet is comprised of 76% Cabernet Sauvignon, 17% Merlot and 7% Syrah.  Columbia Valley reds are known for big fruit and this is no exception.  The very first sip provides a blast of chunky fruit with lush dark fruit flavors continuing through to a tannin-laced finish.   Decant for an hour or more and drink today, or wait a year or two for the tannin to calm down.  Either way, lots of lush Washington State fruit for the price.”  89 Points Jack Brice

Havens Winery Merlot Napa Valley 2014
Napa Valley, California
PLCB Code# 78622  (1,500 cases to be released April 12th)
“The 2014 Merlot from Havens remarkably celebrated their 30th vintage in Napa.  It has a dense purple color and beautiful black cherry and blacker fruits, with hinst of delicate chocolate and coffee bean.  It is full-bodied, opulent and certainly about as good as Merlot in Napa can be.  This lushcious, sexy style of wine is totally charming.  Drink it over the next decade or more.”  92 Points Wine Advocate, December 30, 2016
Why this is good value: “For me this is a throwback to when Merlot was super-popular and so many new Merlot makers were releasing easy-drinking reds to please the masses.   While that time is passed, it was arguably good for California Merlot as current releases are more carefully produced and can be appreciated all the more.   Havens offers a smooth and lush Napa Merlot that hits all the traditional marks: lush mouth feel, dark cherry and blueberry fruit flavors backed up by moderate tannins.  Any Napa red at this price is unusual and this represents a good value.”  90 Points Jack Brice

Buoy Ten Pinot Noir Willamette Valley 2015
Willamette Valley, Oregon
PLCB Code# 78551  (2,800 cases released March 15th)
“Stone, plum, hints of sage, spice, cherry sauce and tea flavors. Perfect balance with a long impressive finish. Wow!”  – Steve Pollack, wine buyer for the Chairman’s Selection® program
Why this is good value: “Oregon Pinot Noir is potentially the most highly regarded Pinot Noir regions in North America – mainly because the Pinot grapes benefit from a long, comparatively cool growing season.  These factors allow many Oregon Pinot Noirs to show cooler fruit flavors and higher acidity than their California cousins, while retaining a velvety mouth feel.   This Buoy Ten Pinot Noir displays these characteristics with plum, raspberry and background hints of minerals, underbrush and tea – finishes with a slight tart cherry note, while smooth cherry still dominates.”  90 Points Jack Brice

February Wine Reviews!

First newsletter of 2017 – hope you find some interesting wines and good values to keep warm through the winter months.
Best regards,
Jack Brice

Bedouet Vigneron Muscadet Sevre et Maine Sur Lie 2015
Loire Valley, France
PLCB Code# 78511

Nice straw colour with green hues. Some green fruit character with some musky scents, notes of grass and a hint of sweet lemon pie. Light bodied with a crisp acidity and a lemon-salty palate-cleansing finish.
Winemaker’s Notes

Apple skin and sea salt. Crisp and refreshing. Great with raw oysters.
Steve Pollack, wine buyer for the Chairman’s Selection® program

Muscadet wine hails from the most western Loire Valley near to the cool French/Atlantic coastline. Many tasters suggest the sea air appears in Muscadet flavors – and even more people suggest the light crisp wines of Muscadet are the perfect accompaniment for oysters (given the same geographical location, it makes sense!). I tasted this wine without oysters but I imagine the combination would work nicely.

This Bedouet Muscadet Sevre et Maine Sur Lie, as the name implies (and by French regulation) must have spent the winter ‘sur lie’ (in contact with lees) which imparts complexity and body to this extremely dry white wine.  Along with light, almost spritzy and dry characteristics of the wine, there are flavors of green apple, grass and lemon with a pleasingly tart finish. For this price, the wine is a great bargain as the fresh crisp wine will happily accompany lighter fare. HINT: avoid Muscadet wines older than 2-3 years (Muscadet is intended to be drunk young).
88 Points Jack Brice


Firriato Jasmin Zibibbo Terre Siciliane 2015
Sicily, Italy
PLCB Code#  78457

Floral and elegant, this wine has citrus fruits enveloped by scents of Jasmin and Mediterranean maquis. The palate is fragrant and sapid, wide and harmonic. Persuasive fruit with a range of citrus fruits from yellow to red.
Winemaker’s notes

An exotic white filled with floral, Jasmin hints of ginger with wonderful glass-filling perfumed aromas. Try it with bay scallops.
Steve Pollack, wine buyer for the Chairman’s Selection® program

“It tastes like a young Sophia Loren on a summer date with a handsome man but not necessarily her husband.”
Lisa C.  2/17

Last year I was fortunate to visit Sicily with a stop at Firriato’s stunning Etna winery to learn about their estate and taste some wines (with a constant view of the mildly erupting Mount Etna volcano). I was impressed with their commitment to indigenous grapes and precise wine making – I hope more and more of their wines become available in the United States!

The 2015 “Jasmine” white is an aromatic white produced from Sicilian Zibibbo grapes. Many other parts of the wine world might recognize this grape as a member of the (very large and far reaching) Muscat grape family. While other parts of the world use Muscat grapes for dessert and sweet wines, this offering is a slightly off-dry table wine. Color is bright, light yellow, while the nose is immediately aromatic and floral (possibly the reason for the “Jasmine” name) with distinct sweetness. On the palate, sweetness is far less impacting, with dominant floral and citrus notes over top of peach leading to a stone fruit-ish finish. This wine needs no food and will be pleasing for afternoon sipping by the pool or intense book club discussions.
90 Points Jack Brice  


Brancott Sauvignon Blanc
Marlborough, New Zealand 2015
PLCB Code# 7245

Fragrant and juicy, with apple blossom, lime zest and chive blossom notes surrounding a core of intense and refreshing lemon and grapefruit flavors.
90 Points Wine Spectator

Color is clear straw, nose displays immediate grassy aromas with citrus underneath. Super fresh lemon flavors with grapefruit tinge near the finish. Very clean and refreshing.   Yet another tasty Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, although – thankfully – a lighter style that doesn’t cause any face-puckering (like many Marlborough SBs of the past). This wine is widely available and deserves consideration for its pleasingly fresh, clean flavors.
89 Points Jack Brice


Cape Mentelle Sauvignon Blanc Semillon Margaret River 2015
Margaret River, Australia

PLCB Code# 73121

Named one of the Top 100 White & Sparkling Wines of 2016, the 2015 Cape Mentelle is a blend of 52% Sauvignon Blanc and 48% Semillon. The vibrant, aromatic blend produces a distinctive wine that accentuates both grape varietals. Fresh, intense blended white with aromas of citrus blossom, lime, honeydew melon. Light color; young and fresh with pithy acidity and mineral character balanced by rich fruit flavors of limes, passion fruit and pink grapefruit. Deliciously juicy with a bright, elegant, well balanced palate and a creamy texture. Long finish.
92 Points TheWineFront

Australians like to truncate, so this Suavignon Blanc-Semillon wine often  is called simply “SBS”.  This “SBS” is tasty – with light straw color – lime citrus nose – intense lemon lime melon flavors – full soft mouth feel – and lovely balanced acidity that dances over the palate through to a light mineral/pith finish that persists.  Don’t miss this SBS!
92 Points Jack Brice


Duc de Raybaud Chardonnay Brut Blanc de Blancs NV
PLCB Code# 78437

A beautiful, bright, pale yellow in color. It has a pleasant and complex nose with delicate floral aromas, complemented by a discreet touch of oak. This wine is very refreshing to the palate and characterized by a good persistence. It’s an elegant wine that surrenders a fine, regular foam.
Winemaker’s notes

Citrus and sweet lemon and lime. Toasty and clean. Very good sparkler!
Steve Pollack, wine buyer for the Chairman’s Selection® program

From Southern France where sunshine is plentiful, this wine is made by a Provencal family with three generations of experience. Made in a dry, brut style, the bubbly shows slight grapey character and smooth, dry ‘foxy citrus’ flavors that provide this sparkler with a more interesting profile than typical inexpensive “manufactured bubbly” – all at a highly approachable price.  Be sure to purchase this by the case and serve at your next big party. Your friends will appreciate the French bubbly you provide and imagine you paid more for it!   A wine professional friend of mine suggested this Raybaud is “far better than Barefoot Brut” that sells for $12.99.
86 Points Jack Brice


Les Vignes de Bila Haut Cotes du Roussillon Villages Rouge 2015
Rhone, France
PLCB Code# 99395

While the entry level wine from this estate, the quality here is incredible, especially at the price point. Made from 50% Grenache, 40% Syrah and 10% Carignan from a mix of the estate’s terroirs, aged in concrete tanks and stainless steel, it offers a rich, concentrated and serious feel to go with fabulously pure notes of blackberries, black raspberries, crushed rock and melted licorice. Thick, unctuous and luxuriously textured, this will certainly be the greatest vintage of this cuvee to date.”
91-93 Points, Wine Advocate 4/16

As a note, the previous vintage to this, 2014 Bila Haut, was #51 in Wine Spectator’s top 100. I feel 2015 is as good a vintage as 2014 so we will likely see good value here!Opaque purple in the glass – aromas of blackberries and savory herbs, the mouth feel is significantly dense and smooth, especially for an inexpensive French wine, but not surprising from the warm Roussillon region in Southern France.  Flavors blossom on the palate, dominated by sweet black raspberries with an undercurrent of olive, lavender, and savory notes with a rich, smooth finish.  Keep it a few years if you like, but great to drink today. Flavors suggest a more expensive Rhone red.  This vintage is a fantastic value!
92 Points Jack Brice


Description: Bodegas Muriel Fincas de la Villa Rioja Reserva 2011
Rioja, Spain
PLCB Code# 78406

Pretty fruit flavors of strawberry and raspberry mingle with vanilla, spice and light herbal notes in this alluring red. The tannins are light but firm, while citrusy acidity keeps this fresh through the vanilla-scented finish. Drink now through 2021.
90 Points Wine Spectator, 5/16

Baked, rooty aromas of sandalwood, exotic spices and berry fruits are attractive. Though slightly grabby on the palate, this shows the right structure and build. Flavors of up-front oak, herbal plum and raspberry finish dry, with firm, pinching tannins. Drink through 2021.
90 Points Wine Enthusiast, 8/16

Spice and floral aromas accompanying a light to medium weight and nicely smooth mouth feel.  Flavors of raspberry and vanilla sit above significant but not overpowering tannins, finishes with return of vanilla and bright freshness.  Solid value, very nice, easy drinking, medium bodied red.
90 Points Jack Brice



Vidal Fleury Rouge Cotes du Rhone 2013
Southern Rhone, France
PLCB Code# 7671

Enjoys a deep nose with white pepper, graphite notes and bright red fruits. The palate is powerful and intense with black cherry and dark, muscular berry fruit, crisp acid and some neat, grippy, slightly salted tannins. The finish is long with berries and spice.
95 Points Decanter Magazine 1/17

Founded in 1781 and continuously operating since, Vidal-Fluery has countless vintages and hundreds of years experience to back up their wine-maker Guy Sarton du Jonchay, who brings global new-world experience to the historic producer. These elements conspire to encourage consistent wine-making in each new vintage.The 2013 Cotes du Rhone is dark red in the glass, with subtle red fruit and metallic aromas. Red Cotes du Rhone often shows rustic flavor elements and here is no exception with medium-bodied mouth feel carrying pure red fruit flavors backed up with dried spices/cherries and noticeable tannin followed by juicy, peppery grip at the finish.  A fine traditional example of Cotes du Rhone to accompany sausages and grilled meats.
91 Points Jack Brice



Carpineto Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Riserva 2011
Tuscany, Italy
PLCB Code# 44560

A rich, powerful style, this evokes black cherry, black currant, plum, leather and tar flavors. Balanced and ready to enjoy, with lingering accents of spice and tobacco. Drink now through 2023.
93 Points Wine Spectator 2016

The 2011 Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Riserva is made with 70% Sangiovese (Prugnolo Gentile) and 30% Canaiolo with other red grapes. The wine shows great authenticity with earthy tones, dried rose, black fruit, cola and balsam herb. This Vino Nobile Riserva reveals a velvety texture and evident tannins at the back. It should evolve over the next decade, but you can also drink it now.
90 Points Wine Advocate

Dark, almost savory in the nose, the wine is medium bodied, but its flavor intensity and texture suggests a bigger weight.   Chewy, intense red and black cherry flavors immediately impress with plum layers underpinned by leathery notes wrapped in serious but smooth tannins. Oak is apparent but not in the way.  Great wine and a good value at the price – why pay more for Brunello?
 91 Points Jack Brice

Louis Martini Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley 2013
Alexander Valley, California
PLCB Code# 32553

Fresh classic aromas of blackcurrants, mineral sweet licorice and warm soil.  It is very mouthfilling, and has swagger and density.  It is packed with fruit and interesting Indian spice notes too.
93 Points (avg of scores from three reviewers: 95, 89, 95) Decanter Magazine 2/17

Outscored many 2013 Napa icons in Decanter Magazine panel review, and since many of them are well out of my price range, I get exited to see a $25 California wine with character and appeal. Dark violet color, blackberry nose – earthy but packed with sweet spicy fruit, medium to full texture and smooth all the way to the lifted tannin crackle finish.  Bottle age will help but is certainly enjoyable now (with breathing/decanting).  Probably too big for most dinner dishes but will impress friends while sipping along side strong cheeses.
92 points Jack Brice

New Perspective Wines – December 2016

Ribbonwood Sauvignon Blanc Marlborough 2015, Marlborough, New Zealand, $8.99, PLCB Code# 78379

“The 2015 Ribbonwood Sauvignon Blanc is scented of ripe lemons, asparagus and grass with touches of crushed stones and sweat. Medium-bodied, it offers mouth-filling citrus and grass-laced flavors and a good Long finish.”  87 Points Wine Spectator 11/15

Light straw color, grassy citrus nose, light, fresh grapefruit and citrus flavors very even through to a clean finish.  To me this wine confirms my theory of NZ Sauv Blanc terrior that the Marlborough region has a trademark flavor profile even at the most affordable pricepoints. Great Value!  88 Points Jack Brice

Bleasdale Langhorne Crossing White Blend 2015, Langhorne Creek, South Australia, $8.99, PLCB Code# 78284

“Bright, breezy … would do the job [as a wine to drink outdoors] – it’s a “super everyday fridge door wine”, as they describe it in winesocietyspeak. – Fiona Beckett “The Guardian 5/16

“Pale straw. Pungent citrus pith, quinine and fresh herbs on the nose. Dry and racy in style, displaying good lift and firm bite to its bitter lime zest and quince flavors. Closes taut and spicy, with good cut and lingering bitterness.” *88 points Vinous, 3/16

The first Verdelho vines were planted when Bleasdale Vineyard was founded in 1850 – so it stands to reason their white blend featuring Verdelho would nearly jump out of the glass with an immediate attack of tropical, then stone fruits and juicy acidity.  A mineral tinge accompanies the almost effervescent, tingly finish.  This wine is a fantastic value at the price and will please anyone seeking a non-Chardonnay white to surprise dinner guests.  (80% Verdelho, 15% Sauvignon Blanc, 5% Chardonnay)  89 Points Jack Brice

Tolpuddle Vineyard Chardonnay Tasmania 2013, Tasmania, Australia, $56.99, (limited availability), PLCB Code# 72752

This label is certain to grace some of the greatest Australian pinots and chardonnays in the years ahead, the vineyard (planted in ’88) a Tasmanian jewel. The most remarkable part of this wine is its combination of finesse, length and intensity of varietal fruit flavour, in turn based on the laser etching of Tasmanian acidity. Drink By: 2025. Special Value.  97 points James Halliday 7/15

Wonderful aromas of apple pie, straw and mineral. Hints of dried apple, too. Full body, bright acidity and an oyster-shell, apple and mineral aftertaste. So layered and intense but delicate and beautiful.  March 2015  95 Points James Suckling 3/15
Aromatic, linear and very pure with nice citrus fruit. Bright and very direct with a lovely acidic core. Linear and refined, showing real finesse. 94/100  1200 cases total production  94 Points wineanorak 5/15
Tasmania, my mother’s home state and my childhood home, is an island containing some of the world’s most picturesque, free of pollution, naturally rich ecosystems.   In recent years the clean climate, some suggest it is the cleanest on earth, has supported development of a vibrant food and wine culture – and the world is quickly taking notice… check out more about Tasmania here: www.discovertasmania.com.au

Medium rich color, savory oak on the nose, powerfully focused with intense green and baked apple flavors supported by impressive length – spicy finish persists a full minute or more.   Deeply concentrated flavors impress by providing depth without becoming too heavy – one could cellar it another year or two.  The density of finessed flavors reminds me of a White Burgundy Corton-Charlemagne style wine instead of an all too common style of fruity/buttery/flabby mass-market, new-world Chardonnay.  Pricey but rewarding!  95 Points Jack Brice


 Champagne Moutard Pere et Fils Grande Cuvee Brut NV, Champagne, France  $25.99  PLCB Code# 48025  

“Tropical hints of papaya and passion fruit pâte de fruit are enlivened by bright and tangy acidity, layered on the lively bead with flavors of Gala apple, blanched almond and fresh ginger. Well-knit and vibrant, with a sleek, minerally finish. Disgorged January 2015. Drink now through 2018.”   91 Points Wine Spectator 12/15

Moutard’s Champagne making house is located in the Cote de Bar region, which is the most southeast wine producing region in Champagne – with rolling hills and good soil for such pursuits.  This Champagne shows trademark tiny bubbles, yeasty nose, smooth mousse with apple, pear and bread flavors followed by crisp clean finish.   A real Champagne for the cost of domestic bubbly – worth a try!   91 Points Jack Brice


Champagne Moutard Pere et Fils Rose de Cuvaison Brut Non Vintage  Champagne, France, $27.99, PLCB Code# 48007

“A tangy version, showing steeped peach and raspberry fruit, with almond and preserved lemon flavors. Floral and spice accents ride the creamy bead and linger on the chalky finish. Disgorged January 2015. Drink now through 2018.” 90 Points Wine Spectator 11/15

Darker than many Rose Champagnes, rich with cherry and raspberry flavors.   Mouth feel is full and creamy without heaviness, finishes clean with lingering cherry notes. 89 Points Jack Brice


Falesco Tellus Merlot Umbria 2013, Umbria, Italy  $9.99  PLCB code: 78263

“Grippy tannins are layered with flavors of grilled herb, spice box, mineral and dried currant and strawberry fruit in this medium-bodied red. The tannins hold sway on the finish. Best after 2017.”  87 points Wine Spectator Online, 2016

“The 2013 Merlot Tellus was initially closed during my tasting and opened slowly to reveal red fruit, spice and grilled herb. Fruit is sourced from different soil types and at different harvest times to allow for more variability in winemaking. This is a new product in the Falesco line. The Merlot is smooth and silky on the finish.”  88 points Wine Advocate, 3/16

If any country could take a grape known in the USA for big-boned, huge-fruited heavy red wines, and create a trademark light- to medium-bodied food wine, it would absolutely be Italy.  In the case of the Falesco Tellus Merlot from Umbria, Italy delivered!   This wine is not especially light, but it is compared to the American versions, which makes it quite useful as a burger/pizza/pasta weeknight-easy to drink wine.   There are typical Merlot flavors of dark fruits and even a little blueberry, but on a lighter frame than many of us are accustomed.   Ready to drink now, it is a nice wine at a nice price!  87 Points Jack Brice


Trivento Malbec Reserve 2015, Mendoza, Argentina $11.99  PLCB Code# 4369

“Gorgeous nose exhibiting an array of aromas such as peppery mulberry, sour and black cherry, violet and a subtle touch of wild strawberry jam. The palate is full, complex, with a fantastic energy and bursting with ripe dark plums; tannins are impressively silky and freshness is amazing. An exceptional nectar from the Agrelo terroir.”  95 Points Decanter Magazine 6/16, Decanter Platinum Medal for Best Argentinean Malbec under £15

Purple and opaque in the glass, with a floral/violet nose, full bodied and smooth on the palate, lots of grip with archetypal rich, dark, inky black fruit and plum flavors.  Surprising depth – finishes with nicely integrated fresh acidity.  All components in equal amounts create great value for Malbec lovers. 91 Points Jack Brice


Antonin Rodet Chateau de Mercey Rouge Hautes Cotes de Beaune 2014, Burgundy, France  $14.99  PLCB Code# 78305

“Color: Bright red. Nose: Explosive, with aromas of slightly toasted red fruits. Palate: A lot of fruit in the mouth. Rich structure with ripe tannins.”  *Winemaker’s notes

“A pure expression of Burgundian Pinot Noir. Elegant and plush with plum and Bing cherry notes combined with raspberry and hints of earth. Nicely balanced mouthfeel and finish.”  —Steve Pollack, Chairman’s Selection program

Red Burgundy is the holy grail for many wine lovers.  The world’s most expensive wines are Red Burgundies.   For the rest of us, we can enjoy a nicely made non-Grand Cru-fancy-pants Pinot with cheese or a meal and feel satisfied that we didn’t need to sell a Porsche to pay for it!   This is one of those wines – light red color, perfumed fresh red fruits in the nose, light but silky mouth feel with red fruits and undercurrent cherry, slight mineral tartness at the finish.  A lovely, light red for when you don’t what to be kicked in the head – Red Burgundy for thrifty pinot purchasers.   90 Points Jack Brice


Canonica A Cerreto Chianti Classico Riserva 2011  $19.99  Chianti, Tuscany, Italy  Chairman’s Selection  PLCB Code# 78439

“There’s plenty of sweet fruit to this red, but also a sinewy structure, with bright acidity and dense tannins. Shows persistent leather, tobacco, spice and dried berry flavors, with a mineral element emerging on the long finish. Drink now through 2023. 3,500 cases made.”  94 Points, Wine Spectator

Dark brick red with dried fruits on the nose. A lush mouth feel incorporates smooth, generous black fruit, tobacco and leather flavors with an undercurrent of dried fruits supporting a savory-tinged, but still smooth finish.  I would consume next 2-5 years.  Tuscany’s 2011 vintage provided many lush-fruited early drinking reds – and this is a fine example!  92 Points Jack Brice


Produttori del Barbaresco 2012, Piedmont, Italy  $29.99 PLCB Code# 44444 

“A graceful and detailed red, marked by ripe cherry, strawberry, floral and tar flavors, with the fruit intensity persisting on the finish, showing excellent length. This is well-integrated and just needs time for the tannins to soften. Best from 2018 through 2030.”  93 Points Wine Spectator  1/16

“A big, powerful wine, the 2012 Barbaresco hits the palate with surprising depth allied to nervous tannins that are going to need time to soften. Tobacco, smoke, licorice, menthol, game and a host of dark, ferrous notes give the wine much of its virile personality. The 2012 is not as finessed as some recent vintages, yet it offers considerable potential for the future. Most importantly, it is a terrific value at a time when well-priced Barbaresco is increasingly hard to find. In 2012, the Produttori did not bottle their Riservas. When that happens, the straight Barbaresco is often an overachiever. That is certainly the case here, as the 2012 offers outstanding quality for the money, with plenty of potential for the future. I can’t think of too many wines that deliver this much pleasure and value.”  92 Points  Vinous / Antonio Galloni  12/15

Big intense flavors on a mid-weight frame – classic Nebbiolo grape flavors of cherry and other red fruits with tar and licorice underneath.   With some decanting, it would easily stand up to the biggest Italian meatballs.  Seamless flavors matched to fine and seriously grippy tannin structure suggests a wine with some time ahead of it.  A serious wine… if you have the time (to cellar or decant).  92 Points Jack Brice

Screaming Good Deals for Summer

Summertime often brings casual, hot, sweaty, outdoor parties. And even though friends deserve the very best, the budget deserves attention too, so locating a great tasting wine to enjoy with friends while not breaking the budget is a great way to feel good about the next party!   Here are several wines that might help with both goals – ALL good quality, ALL under $10! Last weekend I tested these wines on my friends and they showed well (always nice to get extra opinions!), so I suggest you enjoy them all… and with the money you saved, buy something nice for yourself!!!


De Perriere Rose Brut France NV (PLCB Code: 47635 $8.99 Available in Premium Collection Stores)   What a nice bottle of inexpensive rose sparkler! This may be a perfect for casual, warm evenings with friends. Lightly effervescent with strawberry scents on the nose, the flavors, while not layered or complex, are straightforward red fruits that persist through to a clean finish.   Upon tasting this sparkler, a friend reminded me that for less than the price of many, mildly-disappointing glasses of non-descript restaurant sparklers, you can have the entire bottle of the De Perriere Rose Brut – which makes it my new favorite inexpensive sparkler AND makes it a Screaming Good Deal!


Bommarito Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley 2014 (PLCB Code: 33803 $9.99 widely available) This Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc is produced under famous Napa producer Whitehall Lane.   Anyone familiar with new world style Sauvignon Blancs will recognize the trademark heavier weight and concentrated fruit flavors – this particular SB features a number of candied fruit elements that overshadow the typical Sauv Blanc grassy/grapefruit elements, all of which drive through to a finish that features a slight savory note, possibly due to the alcohol level of 13.2%. While this wine is not a style that I seek out, it is a representative example of new world, full-throttle Napa white, and at this price point, for those who like a bigger white: it is a Screaming Good Deal!

Xanthos Chardonnay California 2013 (PLCB Code: 33788 $8.99 widely available) If the previously referenced Sauvignon Blanc is “full-throttle” then this California Chardonnay is “full-er-throttle”!   Despite the high, but not uncommon in CA Chardonnay, 14.3% alcohol, the nose is full of apricot and honey notes followed by a big, high density, mouth full of baked apple flavors followed by a persistent finish tinged (not badly) with oak and pear flavors.   A great example of an inexpensive wine produced from a high quality vintage delivering value to the consumer.   Big, new-world white wines are not my bag, but lots of people will find lots of great elements in this highly affordable California Chardonnay – for those who like a heavy hitting Chardonnay: this is a Screaming Good Deal!


Dezzani Otto Bucce Piedmont DOC 2013 (PLCB code: 33805 $7.99 widely available)   A blend consisting mainly of the fantastic for young, easy-drinking reds, Dolcetto grapes (68%) combined with small (8% or less) of seven other grapes including Barbera, Bonarda, Freisa, Albarossa, Syrah, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Despite the exhausting number of grapes in the blend, this ruby red, light to medium bodied wine delivers a pleasant and smooth mouthful of easy-drinking red and black fruits. The mid-palate touch of sweet fruits, is unusual, but works, and carries through to a soft finish.   This is not a tannic wine to keep in the cellar, rather a wine to drink this summer and fall before the weather demands more full-bodied reds.   At this price point, definitely a Screaming Good Deal – I would grab several bottles for my next evening barbeque invitation!

Bodegas Langa Real de Aragon Garnacha Calatayud 2012 (PLCB code: 44035 $9.99 Available in Premium Collection Stores)   Who says Southern France is the best source of value-oriented Grenache? Simply change a few letters of the grape name and you’ve got Garnacha (same grape, just the Spanish name).   Grenache in Southern France benefits from a warm/hot growing season and Spain has plenty of hot weather, so it stands to reason that this Garnacha from the Calatayud region, which is roughly mid-way between Barcelona and Madrid, where Romans first cultivated wine of many grape varietals, but now 88% of the region’s grapes are Garnacha.   This Real de Aragon Garnacha is seriously dark, nearly opaque without a dominating nose, but evenly structured, displaying solid, ripe juicy black fruit along an undertone of slightly spicy vanilla bean and fine grip/tannins on the finish – this wine has depth that is unexpected at this price.   Definitely a Screaming Good Deal that would be happy paired with grilled meat or blue cheese!

Altovinum Evodia 2013 (PLCB code: 43553 $9.99 Available in Premium Collection Stores)   Another Garnacha from Spain’s Calatayud region, this relatively young 2013 vintage bursts with fruit, both in the nose and the forward leaning ripe red peppery fruit flavors.   The mouth feel definitely has some weight to it, but despite the heft, this wine still shows the structure and cut to keep it in the old-world style.   If your friends lean toward new world, fruit forward styles this may be a great introduction to the old world wines that feature big fruit but bring structure and acidity along for the ride.   This wine is unapologetic in its fruit delivery, so I am unapologetic in declaring it a Screaming Good Deal!

Screaming good deals – Reds for the summer grill! (Cotes du Rhone and California Merlot)

The weather is getting warmer, and peoples’ palates are starting to consider summer whites and rose’, but hey, you still need some reds for those perfect summer evenings with THE GRILL!   So here are two widely available reds that should fill the role nicely, impress your friends, while not breaking the bank

Bouachon Cotes du Rhone Les Rabasieres 2012 – this wine will find its way to my summer wine stash, probably a case or more!   There is much to recommend this humble Cotes du Rhone.   Just the look of the sturdy bottle with the attractive label gives it ‘curb appeal’.  With its floral nose and muscular body, the fruit reaches deeper than expected for such an inexpensive wine.  Is it as round and complex as a good Chateauneuf du Pape?  As rustic as the best Gigondas? No, but that is ok, because hints of both Chateauneuf and Gigondas exist in this wine. The trademark rustic Rhone-grip balanced with such depth of fruit flavor give this red wine all the indicators that it is a quality Southern Rhone wine.  In some respects it might have too much character for some people – and that’s fine – more for the rest of us! When setting up the grill this summer, think about how this Bouachon Cotes du Rhone’s deep, ripe, red raspberry fruit flavors with the powerful grip and finish make it the perfect match to grilled protein (steak!) or hard and blue cheeses – not a bashful wine, don’t be bashful buying it!  (PLCB Code: 33672 Bouachon Cotes du Rhone Les Rabasieres 2012 $9.99 widely available)

Wente Family Estate Merlot Sandstone Livermore 2012 – Merlot is underrated – there, I said it!   California is always dominated by the big Cabernets with big prices, but hovering just below the Cabernet buzz is the hardworking (and much more respected in places like Bordeaux) Merlot Grape.   And when it comes to buying red wine for big events and casual parties, I often look for bargains like this one.   This Wente Family Estate Merlot has double knocks against it in the wine world – it is from Livermore, an up and coming region for sure, but not from Napa or Sonoma, AND it is Merlot, not Cabernet… These ‘knocks’ against render the Wendte Merlot undervalued in my opinion!   On top of that, 2012 was a hugely successful vintage across California, so why not give it a try?   This wine shows a number of California Merlot trademark characteristics: lush body, unobtrusive tannin, blueberry and black cherry flavors, sweet mid-palate and camphor-like flavors followed by vanilla spice in the finish.   Are you having a party with people who might be turned off by the French-ness of a Cotes du Rhone?  Buy this Merlot and watch the crowd get happy with its trademark, comfortable, California style.  This Wendte over delivers for the price!  (PLCB Code 33727 Wente Family Estate Merlot Sandstone Livermore 2012 $9.99 widely available)

Wine on Tap – Good or Bad?

The answer: GOOD! (Although will likely be better in the future… pros and cons below)

Recently I was invited by a bar owner to taste wines from a wine tap system she recently installed as she was rehabbing her bar/restaurant.  She explained that the tap system was ideal for her because her business inhabits an older building with limited bar space, so fewer bottles cluttering the bar space (and fewer empties rattle around before disposal) seemed a great idea.   Of course there is also the best possible reason: profits.   Although prices vary, the wine kegs she buys (which contain approximately 27 standard bottles of wine), provide significant savings compared to purchasing single bottles, or even cases of wine in standard glass bottles.   Finally, there is the green argument slowly making its way through the wine industry.   Understandably, the added heft and packaging costs of several cases of wine causes the packaging and shipment portion of total cost to be much higher, while the lighter, metal keg with handles holding 27 bottles of wine is easier to move, less expensive to ship, and clearly less environmentally impactful.   Even if a customer doesn’t typically consider all those points, most any consumer will appreciate lower prices, and the bar owner will enjoy increased margins!    So what’s not to like?   Well, I was skeptical about the quality of the wine, even though the logical side of my brain knew that a sealed keg was likely a MORE stable way to transport wine than a bottle enclosed with a cork (even in modern times we expect roughly 5% of bottles to be tainted in some way, often by the cork), but the romantic and emotional side of my brain loves the “pop and circumstance” of opening and handling a bottle.   To be fair, a typical bar likely has very few people who would actually like to see the bottle from which their wine came, so the bottle idea is a non-issue.   Even so, what about quality?

In an effort to get to the bottom of this, a tasting was planned.   My idea was to locate same year and vintage wines in bottle, bring them to the bar and try them side by side with the tap wines.   So that my opinions weren’t the only ones in the room, I invited a good friend and fellow wine lover and author of the highly useful wine newsletter “an eye for wine” www.aneyeforwine.com

I located wines in bottle from same maker and same vintage as several of the bar’s keg wines.   We filled our table with glasses of bottle and tap wines to determineif we could discern one from another – and we could – slightly – but only initially…   The only difference between bottle and tap wines that we could discern was that the bottle wines seemed to open up much faster.   The nose was especially more open on the bottle wines and that may have enhanced the flavors on the initial sips.   However this was not a clear victory for the bottles, because after a few minutes of breathing in the glass, the tap wines opened and became (to my palate at least) completely identical!  Why this happens could have to do with the absolute lack of air in the keg arrangement or possibly the amount of wine to surface area etc. – there is no way for us to know…   but we found this ‘closed’ aspect on the tap wines to be present in each of the wines we compared.   Given this, we concluded (somewhat surprisingly) that while we recommend significant swirling, there is no reason to avoid a wine that was transported in a keg and served from a tap!

Here are some pros and cons from my perspective:


  • Less spoilage
  • Fewer bottles to store and dispose
  • Higher margins for operator – and potentially lower retail prices for consumer
  • 27 bottles each keg means lots of servings before having to change out
  • More selection coming in the future


  • 27 bottles each keg means lots of servings before having to change out – so a slow seller will take a long time to get out of the system
  • Snob factor – some people feel better about a bottle and a cork etc
  • Equipment investment – bar owner has to commit capital up front and embrace the wine on tap concept
  • Limited selection currently – the bar owner said only about 50 different wines available – so it might not work for every restaurant

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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