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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Cordier Chateau Andron Medoc 2009 Bordeaux

Cordier’s Chateau Andron 2009 has a lot going for it.   It is from the highly respected Medoc region within Bordeaux AND this vintage is considered by many to be one of the best in memory!   Bordeaux wines are some of the most famous in the world, and pricing can be very high – indeed some of the top Bordeaux wines fetch prices that would make most people wince in financial pain, and even then many of the wines must be held for years before proper enjoyment can take place.   However, the Bordeaux region also produces countless wines, priced for the ‘rest of us’ that are approachable from a price and taste standpoint.   Cordier is a well-known Bordeaux trading house with history dating back to the 1800s, and although Cordier carries a number of very highly regarded (and priced) wines, their vineyard connections and wine-making expertise is not lost on their more affordable wines, such as the Chateau Andron.

In the glass Chateau Andron is a deep garnet color and the nose exhibits dark fruit notes with a pleasant, perfume-like character.   Upon tasting, the Andron’s density is immediately apparent, and this blend of 50% Cabernet, 48% Merlot, and 2% Cabernet Franc is more weighty than expected at this price point – not thick in viscosity, but dense in flavor.   I enjoy the blend of earthy, savory notes with the sweet, dark fruit flavors – and the balance of these is clearly successful, with the flavors flowing evenly through the finish with no sharp edges or disappointing harshness (aspects that could be present in a less well made wine or perhaps a lesser vintage).   This wine is good – and especially good at the reasonable $30-ish price point in three local restaurants (list below).

To my knowledge, these are the three local restaurants that carry Chateau Andron Medoc 2009

Legume Bistro  http://legumebistro.com/

Paris 66  http://www.paris66bistro.com/

Stagioni  http://www.stagionipgh.com/

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Casbah and Chateau des Leotins 2009 = Great Restaurant Value

Restaurant wine lists are often intimidating and expensive.  Coupled with a the often snooty Sommelier, the common American restaurant wine experience can easily result in a fast order of beer or mixed drink just to avoid the difficulty and expense of ordering a bottle of wine.

Recently I have been on the hunt for value in wine lists and decided to test my theory at Casbah, a well-known local restaurant with an extensive wine list.  Although there are many high priced bottles on the list, I happened to notice several Bordeaux bottles listed in the mid $30s – the wine director was kind enough (and not snooty with us at all – despite the fact that we were looking at some of the least expensive wines on their list) to bring several bottles up from the cellar for us to look at and make a choice.   We chose a 2009 Chateau des Leotins.   Our rationale was driven by the fact that 2009 was such a good vintage that even inexpensive wines may be good, and since we knew nothing about this wine, or the blend (turns out to be nearly equal parts Cabernet and Merlot with a dash of Cab Franc), we just rolled the dice and went for it.   The Chateau des Leotins is a medium bodied wine with some earthy fruit and nice balance that matches nicely with savory foods.   While inexpensive Bordeaux wines in poor vintages can exhibit a bitterness (sometimes herbaceous), 2009 was such a good year that none of those negative characteristics are present.   As it turns out the wine is a surprisingly good for the price category, and at $36 on the Casbah wine list it qualifies as a great value for a restaurant bottle.

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Affordable Bordeaux in Pennsylvania!!!

Affordable Bordeaux actually exists!   This would seem a surprise during the current era when huge media attention is given to the steep annual price increases – driven, to a great extent, by Asian wealth discovering a taste for the most significant Bordeaux wines.   However, while it is true France’s most famous wine region produces some of the world’s most famous wines; Bordeaux also produces huge quantities of quite drinkable table wines and good quality mid-priced wines.   As a bonus to the consumer, Bordeaux has enjoyed several stunning vintages in the past few years, and the historic 2009 vintage resulted in high quality wines across all price points.

These three wines – all three available in the Pennsylvania State Stores – are great examples of solid quality, affordable Bordeaux wines that are worth a look and a taste.   If ranked against each other, they would sum up in price order from least to most expensive – but all three price points are well represented.

Chateau Camelot La Chapelle AOC Bordeaux 2009 ($7.99 PLCB code: 36348) – Proof that a $7.99 wine need not taste like its price.  Made from a traditional Bordeaux style blend of 50% Merlot and equal parts Cabernet and Cab Franc.   While this wine is not rich, or madly complex, it easily delivers light to medium bodied pleasant fruit against a back drop of earthiness that makes Bordeaux wines so popular.

Chateau Semonlon Haut Medoc Rouge 2009 ($13.99 PLCB code: 18655) – Chateau Semonlon is produced near the uber-famous Bordeaux sub-region of Margaux, which is known for producing delicate and stylish wines.  In this case the wine is a Merlot and Cabernet blend (60%-40%) that sees no oak ageing, resulting in a light to medium bodied effort with some depth in the fruit but even and balanced throughout – a nice wine for the price.

Chateau Haut Surget Lalande de Pomerol 2009 ($21.99 PLCB code: 36349) – A “right-bank” Bordeaux blend is apparent in this wine (70% Merlot, 15% Cabernet 15% Cabernet Franc) as the Merlot-driven blueberry notes are integrated through the medium bodied, well-balanced wine.   Some oak ageing took place and the balance is successful between fruit, oak, tannins etc.   This is a wine that could stand up against more expensive and better known wines, so we are fortunate to have access!

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Pittsburgh’s Most Aggressively Priced Wine List is at the Union Grill

When I heard that a local restaurant had a full wine list priced at $10 per bottle, but in a market where even mediocre wines can be found selling at 500% of their retail price, I had to assume that a $10 list was an aggressive but temporary promotion trick.   What I have learned is that the Union Grill $10 Wine List is real – and permanent.   Of course there are requirements – such as the reasonable expectation that each $10 bottle is to be served to people ordering at least $10 of food, but minus the food order a customer can still order a bottle of wine for only $17.50 per bottle.   After checking out the list, I discovered a more interesting list than I anticipated.   At first glance there were many bottles from well-known, mass marketed wine makers.   The presence of these wines is unsurprising as they are familiar brands that are common to many restaurants (although for much higher prices than just $10).   But a closer look at the list revealed several wines that surprised me by their presence – wines of character from Portugal and France that I’ve rarely seen at other restaurants and certainly not at $10 per bottle.  For wine enthusiasts interested in a casual dining experience with a truly interesting bottle of wine, here are the most interesting wines of the $10 list:

Chateau Ollieux Romanis Capucine Blanc and Rouge – Having recently met Pierre Bories of Chateau Ollieux Romanis, I can tell you that he is a passionate wine maker who makes a broad line of wines, all of which are aimed at displaying the character of his region and the grapes that grow most successfully in and around Corbieres (Languedoc , Southern France).   The Blanc, or white, is a blend of 90% Sauvignon Blanc, a grape common to white Bordeaux wines, and 10% Grenache Blanc – the result is a white wine reminiscent of some white Bordeaux wines, with citrus notes and fresh, crisp flavors.   The Rouge, or red is a more complicated blend of typical Southern French grapes – equal proportions of Carignan, Merlot, Grenache, and Shiraz.   This wine has great fruit character with medium body and a balanced mix of red berry flavors that go well with food.

Adega de Pegoes Red and White – These wines are produced by a Portuguese Cooperative Winery a few miles east and south of Lisbon and very near the city of Setubal.   Like so many Portuguese wines, the red is a blend of several grapes relatively unknown to the rest of us outside of Portugal.   Flavors are slightly herbal and earthy with some underlying cherry notes.   The Pegoes White wine presents a fresh, and nearly exotic set of flavors with a smooth crisp finish – not your average white wine!

Quinta do Encontro Red – A favorite of local wine enthusiasts, the Encontro Red is a wine of surprising quality and value.  The Encontro is constructed in a modern, fruit forward style, and contains a small amount of Merlot blended with the majority of Baga, a traditional Portuguese grape.   The result is a wine that has rich flavors that appeal to the fans of ‘new world’ wines yet still has some structure for the European ‘old world’ wine style fans.

Two more wines also caught my attention.   The Franz Reinhart Riesling Kabinett, which is a legitimate German Riesling, which to me means the wine has the most interesting characteristic in which the texture and flavors combine to produce a slight sweetness in the mid palate, balanced by a dry finish.   And finally, the white Quinta da Romeira, Arinto.   Made from 100% Arinto grape, this white is fresh and tropical with undercurrent flavors of lime and citrus – fresh but lingering acidity make this Arinto a great compliment to fish and other light dishes – a great summer wine!

I conclude that, short of taking my own wine to a BYOB restaurant, it IS possible to fine a great $10 deal on wines of character at a local restaurant: The Union Grill.  In the future I hope to see more wines like these finding their way onto the Union Grill Wine list and all the wine lists around town!

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Chateau Ollieux Romanis

This Tuesday July 5 we will have a great opportunity to meet Pierre Bories of Chateau Ollieux Romanis, and taste several of his fantastic wines.

Pierre Bories is visiting Pittsburgh for only one day so I arranged with Brasserie 33 to serve four Ollieux Romanis wines. These wines are from the heart of the “Corbieres” region of southern France (Languedoc) – similar in style to rich and flavorful wines of the Southern Rhone, I have tasted the Capucine Red and Love it. In fact the Capucine Red has become one of my go-to recommendations when people ask me to suggest a flavorful red wine that will complement food, and the affordable price point makes it quite popular. This will be a very interesting tasting I am sure!

We will taste these wines with Pierre:

Cuvee Capucine Blanc (95% Sauvignon Blanc, 5% Grenache Blanc)

Rose Cuvee Classique (65% Grenache Blanc, 35% Cinsault)

Cuvee Capucine Rouge (equal parts Carignan, Grenache, Syrah, Merlot)

Corbieres Classique (40% Carignan, 30% Grenache, 30% Syrah)

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Fantastic American Wine Dinner at Braddock’s American Brasserie

The 15thOff-the-Grid” Sunday Supper Series (www.off-the-grid.ws) wine dinner was fantastic.   For our 15th dinner we wanted to try a dinner theme aimed at the good old USA – and our friends at Braddock’s American Brasserie (at Pittsburgh’s Renaissance Hotel) were more than happy to work with us.  

Jim Henning‘s entire Braddock’s management team and staff were engaged, professional and pleasant to work with throughout our planning and dinner.   Chef Brian Volmrich put together a stunning array of courses AND, most important for the wine enthusiasts in our group, he was happy to work closely with us to make sure the food and wine were complementary throughout.   The result was a dinner that we will all remember for a long time to come – I wish I could have another taste of the braised veal cheek and “Split Fathom” Cabernet…..

Here is what was enjoyed (I would not change a thing!)

First Course (Served on the 14th Floor private roof patio) – American Caviar and Lobster on Buckwheat Blinis with Crème Fraiche –  Gruet Brut NV (Albuquerque, New Mexico) – the delicate lobster and American Caviar flavors complemented the lovely effervescence of the Gruet Brut.

Second Course – Pan-Seared Bronzini with Blue Crab and Peppercress Salad and Warmed Fingerling Potatoes – King Estate Pinot Gris 2009 (Willamette Valley, Oregon) – nicely weighted course, with the Bronzini and Crab flavors matching the light and floral notes of the Pinot Gris

Third Course – Chilled Green and White Asparagus with Roasted Tomatoes, Prosciutto, Olive Bread Crostinis and Opal Basil Vinaigrette – no wine with the salad course, but wow was this salad tasty!

Fourth Course – Duet of Braised Veal Cheek and Grilled Petite Filet Mushroom and Herb Risotto with Bordelais Demi-Glace – Gundlach Bundschu Merlot 2006 (Sonoma, California) AND Treasure Hunter “Split Fathom” 2006 (Napa Valley, California) – no subtle flavors here, two richly flavored meats with serious California reds, the Merlot was good and the “Split Fathom” was big, rich and spicy!

Fifth Course (Served on the 14th Floor private roof patio)  – Chocolate Bete Noire with Strawberry Basil Coulis and Crème Anglaise – Gruet Brut Rose NV (Albuquerque, New Mexico) – anything would have been good while enjoying the city lights on the roof patio, but how can you go wrong with a chocolate and strawberry dessert with a Gruet Brut Rose?

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Château Haut Beyzac 2009 Bordeaux

If I didn’t know better I’d think this were a dense and muscular right bank Bordeaux – but it is actually a Haut Medoc (Left Bank) wine that uses a more-common-on-the-right-bank blend of 75% Merlot and 25% Cabernet Sauvignon.

This wine displays trademark Merlot lushness and mouth feel, with big fruit flavors unadulterated by oak flavors since no oak barrels were used to age the wine.   The fruit is the king in this wine and there is no lack of it, but despite relatively soft tannins, the wine still has some structure to it.   Definitely a big fruity example of what the 2009 Bordeaux vintage may bring us.  Due to the super dry second half of the 2009 vintage, and with many wines yet to be released, the results so are have been fruity wines of relatively low acidity – thus making those wines best to be drunk sooner than later.   Even though this wine will last a few years, it is best enjoyed soon – so grab a bottle of Château Haut Beyzac 2009 (or any affordable 2009Bordeaux) and enjoy the great vintage!

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Chateau Tour de Rodet Graves 2009 Bordeaux

The Bordeaux region of Graves is located south and east of the best known Bordeaux regions.   Graves soils include a great deal of ice-age glacial alluvial gravels, so much so as to prompt the region to named after them.   It is said that the Graves gravel and clay soils influence the robustness of wines made there.   Famous white wines are produced in Graves as well (the Graves Sub-Region of Sauternes, well known for sweet wines like Chateau d’Yquem, which is possibly the best known sweet wine in the world), and only one third of Graves wine is red, so finding a Graves Red is unusual and a treat.  

Chateau Tour de Rodet Graves 2009 (currently $11.99 in PA, said to be quoted elsewhere at $24.99), is a Graves red featuring a blend of 65% Merlot and 35% Cabernet Sauvignon.   The nose is not aromatic, but the red fruit notes are apparent, if light and delicate.   Flavors in this wine tend toward sweet red berry fruits, currant and an underlying hint of blueberry (common to some Merlot-based wines).  The Palate is fleshy despite the wine’s medium to light overall weight.   The aforementioned flavors are bright and fresh, without strong tannins that might give reason to lay this wine down.   Grilled meats and blue-type cheeses would combine well with this wine.   Enjoy it soon, it is a good value at this price.

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Wines for French Happy Hour this Wednesday 16Mar11

In anticipation of great attendance for this Wednesday’s 5-7pm French Happy Hour at Brasserie 33 – we have chosen four high quality wines to go with the authentic French Happy Hour Menu – here they are:

White Chateau Richard Bergerac
White Domaine Philemon Gaillac
Red Domaine Guicharde Cotes du Rhone
Red Chateau Gobert Bordeaux

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