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

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

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

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

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

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Bargain Portuguese red blend Carmim Aragones Reguengos 2012

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

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

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

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

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Screaming Good Deal: The Show Chardonnay 2012 at $7.99

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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South American Wines at e2 Restaurant

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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First ever PLCB sale!

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

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

Here are the sparklers on sale:

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

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

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


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Quantum Theatre “Madagascar” pre-show tasting

Fifty people joined us last Friday evening for the Quantum Theatre production of “Madagascar” –  One of Quantum Theatre’s unique features is that every production is produced in a new space, almost never a traditional theatre space.    And since “Madagascar” is a play set in a Roman hotel room overlooking the Spanish Steps, the fantastic century-old, marble-lined bank lobby of the Carlyle Building was chosen for this production.   In keeping with Quantum’s multi-setting approach, our Grapenuts pre-show tasting turned into a tasting AND tour of several century old bank buildings along Pittsburgh’s Fourth Avenue.   Despite the single digit wind-chills, our hearty Grapenuts Group enjoyed checking out the old buildings while tasting wines related to the show.    Logically, we imagine guests of a beautiful, marble-lined hotel in Rome would be served Italian Wines, so here is what we tasted:

Wine Number One Veuve d’Argent Brut NV – a French Sparkling Wine created from blending two grapes: Chenin Blanc and Ugni Blanc.   The Ugni Blanc grape is common in France for both still and sparkling wines, as well as for providing the main component of Cognac.   Known in Italy as Trebbiano, which is likely the more well-known name, combined with the fact that this Brut is created using the tank method for secondary fermentation (just like most Proseccos), we had our Italian connection…. (PLCB Code: 32861  Veuve d’Argent Brut NV   $10.99)

Wine Number Two Borgo Scopeto Chianti Classico 2010  – As the name implies, a ‘classic’ Italian red, made from predominantly Sangiovese grapes in the Tuscan region of Italy (north of Rome).   Intense cherry and tobacco flavors dominated this tightly-knit medium bodied red.   An obvious match for heavy red sauces common to central and southern Italy, an hour or two open before drinking might soften this one a bit – a serious wine and very tasty!  (PLCB Code: 32941  Borgo Scopeto Chianti Classico 2010  $12.99)

Wine Number Three – Secoli Ripasso della Valpolicella 2011 – Northern Italy has several famous wine making areas.   In the Valpoicella region Ripasso is a popular style from the central northern region of Verona (not far from Milan).   Ripasso reds slot between the inexpensive and easy-drinking standard Valpolicella reds on the bottom, the Ripasso in the middle, and the rich, expensive Amarone reds on the top.   The principal red grapes of Valpolicella are Corvina Veronese, Rondinella, and Molinara and a portion of these are dried to reduce moisture before pressing, thus producing thicker heavier juice for fermentation of this Ripasso.   This wine was popular with the Quantum attendees, possibly due to its rich, silky mouth feel and new-world style fruit forward drinkability.   (PLCB Code: 33197  Secoli Ripasso della Valpolicella 2011   $13.99)

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Screaming Good Deal: Dopff & Irion “Crustaces” Alsace 2012 !!

Need a white to sip by itself or with light fish dishes?   Here’s a lovely white made from grapes that may be unfamiliar, but the wine packs pleasing juicy flavors with fine balance.

Sylvaner is the main grape component for this Dopff & Irion “Crustaces”  (90% Sylvaner, 10% Pinot Blanc).  And although Sylvaner is common in France’s Alsace Region and provides juice for wines commonly served as the ‘house blanc’ in Alsatian restaurants, most of the world ignores Sylvaner in favor of more popular white grapes like Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.

On the nose are clean notes of fresh citrus and light floral hints followed by a light bodied, juicy mouthful of lime and lemon flavors, finishing with a slight minerality – all nicely balanced and fresh enough to warrant another sip.   In some respects this wine is reminiscent of a Pinot Grigio, but the intensity of citrus flavors and light mineral finish differentiate it from the popular Italian.  The lobster on the label causes one to wonder if the producer missed the memo that ‘critter labels’ went out of fashion 10 years ago.   But one cannot blame the producer for making the suggestion – this wine capably compliments shrimp, lobster or lightly sauced white fish dishes.

To anyone seeking an interesting and inexpensive alternative to Pinot Grigio, or New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, this $8.99 Sylvaner provides a fine and fresh tasting alternative.   Enjoy!   (PLCB Code: 32914  Dopff and Irion Crustaces Alsace 2012 $8.99 widely available)