Early Autumn Wines 2018 September Vol 3 Issue 2

Wines for early Autumn (where did the summer go?!?!)

Early Autumn brings pros and cons… on one hand we benefit from broad choices of beautiful fresh produce – on the other hand we must start carrying a jacket as we brace for the oncoming shift to cooler weather.

Fortunately plenty of good quality high-value wines are available to help us enjoy summer’s lingering moments.  After countless tastings (and a number of wines poured down the drain in disappointment), presented below are a number of interesting, characterful whites and several solid-value reds that will pair nicely with autumn vegetables and anything grilled!
I hope you enjoy the suggestions below!

Warm regards,
Jack Brice


Domaine Ste Michelle Brut Washington State NV
Price: $13.99 ($9.99 until Sept 30)    

Washngton State, USA
PLCB Code# 4550 (Widely Available, 11.5% ABV)

“Fresh and inviting, lithe and reticent, with pretty pear and spice flavors that finish with finesse. Top Value Pick.” 89 Points Wine Spectator

Why this is good value: Apple and pear flavors with slight grape and spice notes in the background – foremost feature is the strong grip and energetic effervescence followed by a clean finish. Nothing takes away from the apple and the bubbly grip. Fantastic value at this sale price (on sale until Sept 30) I plan to purchase a case or two and save for holiday parties! Great Value!
89 points Jack Brice


Aime Roquesante Rose Cotes de Provence 2017

Provence, France
PLCB Code# 73845 (Specialty Stores, 13% ABV)

“…With lots of strawberry, some tart citrus and nice touches of peach this is a light, refreshing drink. Good, bright acidity offsets all the fruit quite capably and a smooth and slightly creamy mouthfeel rounds things out. It ends dry with lingering tart fruit and just a hint of garrigue (dried herbs) on the finish…”  Overall rating 7/10  Reverse Wine Snob

Why this is good value: For absolutely traditional Provencal Rose, I really like the Aime Roquesante Rose Cotes de Provence 2017. From the heart and soul of rose country, this wine displays the expected light salmon color and delivers a dry (rose shouldn’t be sweet!), fruity sipper with slightly tart and super refreshing red berries, strawberry and watermelon flavors – everything Provencal Rose should be!  Drink soon before warm weather abandons us.
88 Points Jack Brice 


Planeta Etna Bianco DOC 2016

Mount Etna Sicily, Italy
PLCB Code# 74745 (Only in Specialty Stores, 13%ABV)

“Radiant and refined, this white opens on aromas of Spanish broom, white flowers and Mediterranean brush. It is savory and racy, offering apple, pear and orange flavors alongside bright acidity. A salty mineral note lingers on the finish..” 92 Points Wine Enthusiast, February 2018

Why this is good value:  What an interesting wine!  Loads of character here, but none of it overdone.  Bright and vibrant with flavors of stone fruits mixed with lime across the top and undercurrents of savory minerality.   All of this is followed by a lightly chalky (Chablis-like?) finish.   An interesting and well made wine from Mt. Etna’s high altitude vineyards planted in volcanic soils. If you aren’t familiar with Etna DOC wines, this 100% Carricante white is a fine introduction to the delicacy and complexity for which this region is becoming famous.
93 points Jack Brice


Bergerac 2015

Bergerac, France
PLCB Code# 74856  (Specialty Stores, 13.5% ABV)

“Very fruity and fresh, with aromas “crunchy” strawberry and raspberry. Light buttery notes and aniseed nuances. Tart and sweet spice notes. Salivating and fruity finish. Wine roundness no lack of appetite.” VineRepublic

Why this is good value: French table wine!  Anyone visiting France will likely find themselves in an affordable bistro sipping an affordable table wine like this one. This red is a blend (very commonly associated with Bordeaux’s right bank, and St. Emilion is only six miles from this Bergerac estate) of 40% Cabernet Franc, 40% Merlot, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon.  Traditional black fruits fill the nose while the palate delivers straightforward old-world flavors of spicy dark fruits and a hint of licorice with a touch of oak in the tannic finish.  Taste the old world with this solid French table wine at a good price.
88 points Jack Brice


Chateau Grand Medoc, Haut Medoc Cru Bourgeois 2015

Bordeaux, France
PLCB Code# 74955 (Specialty Stores, 13% ABV)

“Very fruity on the nose with lots of dark fruit & minty expression. Quite a powerhouse for the value price, with lots of dark cherry & blackberry.  Tannins not that far off an undecanted Barolo which did make the conversation tricky!!  Nice fruity wine but full enough that it would be recommended it be accompanied with food.” Steve Pollack, wine buyer for the Chairman’s Selection® program

Why this is good value: Classic – This red Bordeaux is marked “Cru Bourgeois” which is an elevated classification, implying higher quality than typical table wine, and would expect to fetch a higher price (often $20-$50).  Produced from “Left Bank”, Haut-Medoc grapes, (not revealed but likely Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc as main components) this is what I consider an old world classic claret with no hints of “Californication” (in other words, not over ripe, not thick and not over-sweet).  Very nice black fruit, earthy tarry flavors with velvety mouth feel at opening with some tannin grip at the end, needs food or strong cheeses to show its merit. Famous reviewer James Suckling awarded a 92 rating for this red.  Drink/decant now or keep for next year or two.
90 points Jack Brice


Les Vignes de Bila Haut Cotes du Roussillon Villages Rouge 2016

Languedoc-Roussillon, France
PLCB Code# 45247 (Specialty Stores, 14.5% ABV)

“An inky colored effort, the 2016 Côtes du Roussillon Villages Les Vignes de Bila Haut offers a beautiful freshness and purity as well as fabulous notes of jammy blackberries, violets, pepper and hints of leather. Rich, concentrated and tasting like it costs four times the price, drink it over the coming 4-5 years.” 92 points Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate

Why this is good value: Here is your barbecue wine!  A common Rhone-style blend made from Syrah, Grenache and Carignan, this big-boned red is the perfect accompaniment to barbecue flavors but also Mediterranean foods.  Offering a nose full of raspberries and violet floral aromas, the palate delivers a fleshy mouthful of red and black fruits backed by significant grip – all of which allows the wine to stand up to all kinds of meat or strong cheeses (try some blue cheese).   A rewarding hot climate red!
91 Points Jack Brice


Cambria Benchbreak Pinot Noir Santa Maria Valley 2014

Santa Maria Valley, California, USA
PLCB Code# 78871 (Widely Avalable, 14.5% ABV)

“Pale to medium ruby colored with a hint of purple, the 2014 Pinot Noir Benchbreak has intense red currant and red cherry notes with hints of violets, Chinese five spice and dried herbs. Medium-bodied, fine and fresh in the mouth, it has a lot of varietal expression and sense of place for this price point without sacrificing flavor, which is a dorky way of saying, it rocks!” 90 points Wine Advocate Sep 2017

Why this is good value: Everyone knows Pinot Noir is a difficult grape to grow and wine to make – hence the price point is often high, despite quality inconsistency. Fortunately, we sometimes find relief. This Cambria, a sustainable farmed Pinot from Santa Maria Valley (north of Santa Barbara), rewards us with trademark Pinot Noir red fruits and spices wrapped in a velvety package.  At this price, it is a bargain – and my new favorite California Pinot Noir!
90 Points Jack Brice


Firriato Soria Frappato Sicily 2015

Sicily DOC, Italy
PLCB Code# 75154 (Specialty Stores, 13.2% ABV)

“Aromas of red berry, cooking spice and graphite emerge from the glass. The bright palate offers  strawberry jam, Marasca cherry and clove alongside fresh acidity and round tannins.” 89 points Wine Enthusiast Aug 2018

Why this is good value: Ruby color and a nose full of red fruits – mouth feel is light and smooth but packs plenty of fruit density on the palate.   Despite being produced exclusively from Sicilian native grape Frappato, this wine conjures comparisons to nice quality new world Pinot Noir due to the red cherry, red raspberry and spice flavors presented in a not-too-hot package (ABV is 13.2%), light tannins and persistent finish.  This is a very appealing medium bodied wine.
90 points Jack Brice


Tenuta delle Terre Nere Etna Rosso 2016

Mount Etna Sicily, Italy
PLCB Code# 74461  (Specialty Stores, 13.5% ABV)

“This well-balanced red is medium-bodied and fresh, with flavors of cherry, grilled plum, tea rose and smoke framed by sculpted tannins. Drink now through 2023.” 90 points,Recommended Wines from Etna, Wine Spectator, Oct 2018

Why this is good value: Produced in the high altitude volcanic soils on the slopes of Mt. Etna, this DOC red is a blend of mostly Nerello Mascalese (roughly 95%) and a small amount of Nerello Cappuccio (roughly 5%).  Reminding me of a fine Pinot Noir, with flavors including intense cherry fruits and undercurrent notes of sweet raspberry and plum, all wrapped in solid but unobtrusive tannins that finish cleanly. I believe many people will enjoy how this wine packs copious amounts of fruit intensity in a light to medium bodied package!
91 points Jack Brice

Wines for Spring 2018 – and warmer (hopefully) weather!

Wines to enjoy as the weather improves… (or, should improve)

As Winter transitions begrudgingly to Spring, our desire for lighter culinary flavors brings the opportunity to explore lighter wines (and the occasional blockbuster).

A special note to those who enjoy French wines: Vintages from 2015 and 2016 throughout France yielded generally fantastic results – which allows many of us to enjoy affordable wines that deliver exceptional value. As wines of these vintages become available, I will be hunting for values to share.

All the wines reviewed are widely available (unless noted) and should remain in stores through June or beyond. At the bottom of this letter are several wines reviewed previously that are recently re-supplied or still available. Enjoy!

Best regards,
Jack Brice


Reserve Mont Redon Rose Cotes du Rhone 2016

Rhone, France
PLCB Code# 78831

Vivid pink. Bright and energetic on the nose, which is sharpened and given a spicy edge by a suggestion of white pepper. Taut red currant, bitter cherry and blood orange flavors open up slowly on the back half and show good clarity. Lingers quite nicely on the finish, leaving a subtle floral note behind.” 89 Points Vinous June 2017

Why this is good value:  This goes against my typical don’t-drink-rose-from-last-year rule but after assurances from Randy at the PLCB store, I dove in – the price point helped to facilitate my gamble…  The gamble pays off in this case: Nice Cotes du Rhone (CdR) color and flavor (strawberries, cherries) that is full enough to be rewarding while clean enough to qualify as a thirst-quenching warm weather rose.  Buy a case and drink it all summer!
90 points Jack Brice


Louis Latour Grand Ardeche Chardonnay Ardeche 2015

Ardeche, France
PLCB Code# 78821

“A plump, flattering style, with a piecrust note out front, followed by warmed  macadamia nut, creamed yellow apple and green melon fruit flavors. Ends with a lightly toasty finish. Drink now.” 88 Points Wine Spectator, November 2017

Why this is good value: Interesting wine.  An important and historic Burgundy producer, Louis Latour drifted south to a lesser-known Northern Rhone region to create this international-style Chardonnay.  While the modern (especially popular in new world) methods of barrel fermentation, malolactic fermentation and oak aging are used, this slightly toasty, soft and fruity Chardonnay is still light on its feet.  This wine does NOT scream WHITE BURGUNDY (after all, it isn’t from Burgundy!), and the soft, fruity, oaked style might draw California fans while not pushing away the old world fans.  Have a party and serve this, no one will think you unsophisticated… Great Value!
89 points Jack Brice


Holm Oak Pinot Gris Tasmania 2015

Tasmania, Australia
PLCB Code# 583266 (Special Liquor Order ONLY)“20% was wild-fermented in used oak barrels, the remainder cool-fermented in tank. This approach has paid big dividends, with a fragrant and flowery pear and jasmine bouquet, the palate with pear and a hint of star anise.”  94 points James Haliday, Australian Wine Companion

Why this is good value: Although a special order wine (which can be accomplished by taking the code to any PLCB store), this wine was featured at a Pittsburgh Cultural Trust event as well as several private dinner events recently – and totally impresses!   Tasmania is a small, comparatively cool Australian island state that is building a global reputation for fine wine making.  This Pinot Gris is no fluke.  Holm Oak’s owners are also the vineyard managers and wine makers who painstakingly produce high quality wines that are increasingly sought after.   An easily approachable white, serving up lovely juicy citrus initially, but as the wine breathes and warms in the glass, floral and tropical flavors start bursting through with unexpected complexity.  Worth the effort!
92 points Jack Brice


La Chablisienne Grande Cuvee Premier Cru 2015

Burgundy, France
PLCB Code# 25883

“A blend from different Premier Cru vineyards across Chablis, this wine is the product of the wide choice of grapes available to this cooperative. It’s soft and ripe yet shows the crisper edge typical of the vintage.”  90 points Wine Enthusiast

Why this is good value: Burgundy’s Chablis region is small, so prices for the elevated Premier Cru and Grand Cru wines are typically high.  Fortunately this La Chablisienne 2015 Premier Cru blend comes to Pennsylvania at an affordable (for Chablis) price.   Juicy green apple and citrus flavors dominate, leading to a crisp clean finish with some minerality toward the end.   Nice Chablis characteristics with trademark flavor balance and finish.
90 points Jack Brice


Yves Cheron Cotes du Rhone Les Dentelles 2015

Rhone, France
PLCB Code# 48658“I was blown away by the 2015 Cótes du Rhône Yves Cheron les Dentelles. Made from 65% Grenache and 35% Syrah aged all in cement, it’s a big, rich, full-bodied beauty that’s loaded with notions of kirsch, blackberries, toasted spices and white pepper. Deep, rich, concentrated and impeccably balanced, it’s the real deal.” 92 points Wine Advocate, Dec 2016

Why this is good value: Wow – nice wine for the money!  CdR wines have a reputation for being somewhat rough/rustic which is like a calling card in that the flavor profile reminds the consumer of the wine’s provenance – but is rustic-ness always a good thing?  Not a concern here – the Cheron les Dentelles (named for the craggy mountains overlooking the Gigondas region of Southern Rhone) is a smooth and even-handed wine with lots of mouth-filling Grenache flavors and only a touch of the stereotypical rustic notes.  The result is a wine that would impress those who might typically reach for a Chateauneuf (at three times the price)!
92 points Jack Brice


Marques de Riscal Rioja Reserva 2012

Rioja, Spain
PLCB Code# 6372

“This is a structured and power red with dried berry, chocolate, spice and salty, mineral character. Full-bodied, firm and chewy. Shows wonderful potential.” 93 points James Suckling

Why this is good value: A perennial Rioja favorite and (fortunately for consumers) produced at consistent high quality.   The Marques de Riscal Rioja Reserva 2012 resulted from a challenging vintage (very dry) that yielded a small crop of very concentrated fruit, resulting in higher than typical fruit concentration with great depth of flavor.  Containing a trademark Rioja blend of 90% Tempranillo and 10% Graciano, the primary flavors of cherry and spice with undertones of balsamic develop nicely with some breathing.  An elegant wine to drink now and likely to develop further – even better with food.   Great value for money in my opinion.
92 points Jack Brice

Chateau Ste Michelle Cabernet Sauvignon Columbia Valley Cold Creek Vineyard 2013

Columbia Valley, Washington, USA
PLCB Code# 74788“Aromas of black fruit, spiced plum, vanilla and herb lead to full dark fruit flavors. It shows a lot of ripeness but keeps it in balance.” 90 points Wine Enthusiast

Why this is good value: BOOM!  Rich, soft and dense with substantial texture, this 100% Cabernet is not the least bit shy or retiring, in fact it is one of the biggest reds I’ve tasted this year.   Fortunately, some stylishness and balance shines through the full weighted and dense flavors of currant, cocoa, vanilla, caramel and oak.   Even for those who shy away from a big wine, this Cabernet is appealing and will last a while.
92 points Jack Brice


(NOTE: This sparkler was recently re-supplied and plentiful in stores again.  In my opinion a great value so I am reiterating my notes on it.   ENJOY!)

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 wheb the Monk Dom Perignon created Champagne.  Historic 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

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