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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Taste and Learn Wine Tasting

Special Taste and Learn Wine Tasting this week at Braddock’s – Six Reds and Five Whites all offered by the glass only this Tuesday – each wine is distinct and different and each has a story that you can learn about and taste!

White wines:  Ca’Stella Friuli Pinot Grigio  –  Dona Ermelinda Palmela – Muros Antigos Loureiro  –  Adega De Pegoes  – Colle Duga Tocai Friulano 

Red Wines:   BV Coastal Shiraz  –  Chateau Les Reuilles  – Chateau Ollieux Romanis  – BV Century Cellars Merlot  – Conde De Vimioso  – Cooralook Shiraz

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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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June Tuesday Tastings – great European Variety!

Braddock’s American Brasserie at the Pittsburgh Renaissance Hotel has agreed to carry these wines just for our tastings each Tuesday of June from 530pm-730pm – check out the great and interesting variety of European Wines!

Tuesday June 7 – These two wines were just featured in the wine spectator as “Best Values” in the Wine Spectator, and one blogger described the red as “Dangerously Drinkable”)   White – Esporao Monte Velho Branco    Red – Esporao Monte Velho

Tuesday June 14 – The 2009 Bordeaux Vintage is a classic vintage and the whites are becoming available – we will complement a fresh young Bordeaux Blanc with a classic Rioja red blend.   White – Chateau Merlet Bordeaux Blanc 2009     Red – Banda Azul Rioja 2006 

Tuesday June 21 – The West Loire Valley produces fresh and fantastic Muscadet whites – we will taste the fresh muscadet along side a Cabernet-based, Left-Bank Bordeaux.   White – Muscadet-Sèvre et Maine 2009   Red – Chateau Andron Medoc Bordeaux 2009  

Tuesday June 28 – A rich and exotic tasting Portuguese white will counter the dark and serious Solitude Cotes du Rhone.   White – Dona Ermelinda Branco 2009   Red – Domaine de la Solitude, Cotes du Rhone 2009

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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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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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Tuesday Tasting at Braddock’s 15Mar11

Just a quick note about this week’s Tuesday Tasting at Braddock’s (  – we have two high quality Californian wines to taste at a fantastically priced $5 per glass – hope to see you there!

White:    Ferrari-Carano Chardonnay 2008

Red:     Honig Napa Cabernet 2006

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American Syrah – 2009 Tensley Santa Barbara County Syrah

The wine makers around Santa Barbara gained ’mindshare’ with the general public after the movie “Sideways” depicted its main characters rolling from one winery to another in search of the finest wine offerings. This attention gave the region instant celebrity and legitimate respect as a wine region. Of course, there is truth to the statement that “hot” wine regions draw lots of attention, and sometimes more than is deserved. But the wine-truth that matters the most is that, regardless of a region’s “hotness” or “coolness”, a quality wine is always worth seeking out. I would not presume to judge whether or not the Santa Barbara region deserves the current level of attention, I have enjoyed wines from this region, so that is enough for me… So here we have what I consider a quality wine – the 2009 Tensley Santa Barbara County Syrah. Concentrated but not sweet – sleeker than many of the wines I consider overly extracted – an aspect quite common in California Rhone style wines. This wine has serious weight, but not at the expense of becoming jammy. Dark raspberry fruit notes dominate with undercurrent floral notes intertwined with smoky chocolate and mineral flavors. The finish rounds out with savory mineral notes, but nothing too angular. The wine is nicely balanced through the entire flavor profile – a great example of an American Syrah and worth seeking out for your next Syrah experience.

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Need a food wine? Try the Ascheri Barbera D’Alba Fontanelle 2008

Some very impressive wines are best enjoyed by themselves – but some wines, when presented with food, actually seem to make both the food and the wine improve and Italian wines are traditionally favorites of the wine+food crowd.   Here is a wine that fills the requirement of “must go well with food”.   The Ascheri Barbera D’Alba Fontanelle 2008 (approximately $18 tastes great with food, and for those who find Italian wines difficult or confusing because they aren’t like a California Cabernet – please take a chance on this Northern Italian 100% Barbera red.   Located 25 miles south of Turin in Northern Italy’s gorgeous Piedmont Region, Ascheri claims to be focused on making wines that express the vineyard and the grapes, rather than producing a wines that rely on particular technology, oak or winemaking techniques.   While unwilling to draw philosophical conclusions, I do conclude that in the case of this wine, the aim was true and the goal achieved.   As is traditional for Barbera wines, this wine is light bodied with a clean, dark ruby color.  Like many Italian reds, breathing helped the Ascheri open up and reveal concentrated red berry flavors with some black cherry undercurrents, all nicely balanced in a bright and fresh package including a nice grip of well integrated acidity at the finish.  This is a wine that will agree with, and nicely balance, many types of food, from pizza to pasta to strong cheeses.

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Celebrate Australia Day with Australian Red Wines

As mentioned in the previous piece on Australian White Wine suggestions – below are some suggestions for currently available Australian Red Wine.   With Australia Day (on January 26th, the Australian equivalent of the US 4th of July) right around the corner we can all get ready with some great grilled foods (from an outdoor grill if you live in a warm enough climate – or you are very ambitious with your winter-charcoal techniques) and some great wine.  I’ve included links to the wineries so you can get the back story on the wines.

West Australian Cabernet and Blends – seems like the Margaret River and Great Southern regions including Frankland River, have become very popular Cabernet Sauvignon making regions.   There is press that suggests these areas are some of the coolest wine regions on the mainland of Australia (the island state of Tasmania is cooler still), but don’t be fooled, Australia’s mainland is generally VERY hot and while these areas are cooler relative to the hotter areas, they are still warmer than most regions in France and Italy for instance.   Recently I had a 1997 Leeuwin Estate Art Series Cabernet from Margaret River – it was beautifully balanced yet the concentrated fruit was still structured – an impressive wine for more than 10 years old.  I’ve also tasted 1999 Redgate Cabernet and more recent Moss Wood Cabernets – all truly fine wines that compete with some of the better French Bordeaux.   Some reliably good West Australian Reds:

Leeuwin Estate Art Series Cabernet Sauvignon any vintage ( Margaret River – received 90-95 pts from various reviewers.

Ferngrove Majestic Cabernet Sauvignon 2007 ( Frankland River – multiple medal winner.

Redgate Cabernet Sauvignon 2008 ( ) Margaret River – 94 pts from reviewer James Halliday

Tasmanian Pinot Noir – although the wineries in Tasmania are still quite young compared to the Australian mainland (most Tasmanian wineries have come into existence in the past 20 years), there is an excitement about the cool climate Burgundian style Pinot Noir wines.   I am a huge fan of the old-school French Burgundy and not a big fan of new world Pinot Noir wines – so I was skeptical of the new Tasmanian Pinots – until I had a few.  The results are surprisingly good, and some are quite faithful to the Burgundian style that is close to my heart.  Here are some that I like:

Frogmore Creek Pinot Noir any vintage( – from a winery run by a kind and interesting American from California.  Tony Scherer has years of large scale organic farming under his belt, so when he decided to focus on wine grapes he had little difficulty with the transition – he says that he chose Tasmania because of the climate and the fact that Tasmania is generally free of pests, so organic grape farming organically is less challenging than other parts of the world.  

Pirie Wines “SOUTH” Pinot Noir any vintage ( – a much lauded wine-maker Andrew Pirie is the proprietor of this self-named estate.  The “SOUTH” Pinot Noir is a fine example of the current crop from Tasmania’s cooler wine making regions.

Shiraz and Shiraz Blends – Australia’s signature grape!   While much of the world thinks about this grape as Syrah, and that debate will likely continue, I just like the stuff.   Whether a Syrah or a Shiraz, from France (Rhone Valley) or Australia (or the USA), it is a grape that brings big, spicy flavors to the table.  Australia’s wine making regions are covered nearly 50% with Shiraz vines, some of them over 100 years old and still producing dense, flavorful, complex wines.   There are so many Shiraz choices that I get questions about how to locate a ‘Good’ Shiraz (in other words, a non critter-labeled-manufactured-tasting wine).   My answer is to stick to the names that have long term reputations for quality wine production and try a few new ones every now and again.   For me the interesting part of looking at an array of Australian Shiraz is that the source region really can make a difference (that French concept of Terroir again) and price point is not necessarily a determiner of quality.   To validate this point, if you were to try a South Australian (hot climate) Shiraz you would likely find the wine to be rich, heavy, thick with fruit and spice, whereas if you try a Shiraz from West Australia, New South Wales, and parts of Victoria (comparatively cooler climates), the wine would likely be leaner, peppery and more savory.   The price element is interesting too – some winemakers created wines for the export market as an attempt to cash in on the legitimately earned Australian wine reputation for great value wines – and sadly many of these were not good efforts and have since slightly diminished the overall reputation of Australian wines – but thankfully at many Australian wine estates there is a new emphasis on quality, right down to the least expensive wines produced.   This is a good thing for all consumers!   Here are some Aussie Shiraz /blends that I recommend:

Yalumba Y-Series Shiraz or Shiraz/Viogner 2009 ( South Australia – Australia’s oldest family owned winery, and one of the most successful as well.   The Y-Series wines present great consumer price point while delivering great wine value as well – these two reds are bright and spicy – more lively than many reds of the Barossa Valley.

Jacob’s Creek Shiraz Cabernet 2008 ( South Australia – A popular Australian blend of two grapes that in most parts of the world would not be put together, but it works successfully in this case.   The Jacob’s Creek business is huge (literally millions of cases produced every year), yet the wines, especially during the past few years, have seen a quality increase due to a great commitment by the wine makers to the smallest details, even when working on their least expensive line of under $10 wines – a success story for the consumer!   As a side note – Jacob’s Creek is an actual creek, or more of a dried up stream bed when I was there, but it does add some authenticity to the back story of this 150+ yr old winery.

D’Arenberg Stump Jump Shiraz 2008 ( McLaren Vale, South Australia – I would probably drink anything from this quirky yet highly regarded producer.   Located south of Adelaide in the McLaren Vale region, d’Arenberg may give light-hearted names to its wines, but there is nothing un-serious about their approach to wine.   The least expensive line, the Stump Jump series is a constant favorite and best value winner in popular wine magazines, and as you go up the range in price the wines become truly impressive – their top of the line “Dead Arm” Shiraz (approximately $60) is one of my all time favorites.

Peter Lehmann Shiraz 2008  ( Barossa, South Australia – Peter Lehmann once said that when God created Shiraz, he did so with the Barossa in mind!  While that comes across as boastful, I’ve visited the winery and it is actually modest compared to many.  The wines however are well constructed and I like them for their balance and depth of flavor – not to mention consistency – in fact Peter Lehmann’s Shiraz has been featured so often in so many top 100 lists that it seems an annual event to receive the awards.

Penfolds Koonunga Hill Shiraz/Cabernet 2008 ( Barossa, South Australia – This inexpensive wine, first released in 1976 to huge reviews for the quality of wine at such a low price point, continues to impress.   Nearly every year I have a glass of this wine and wonder how Penfolds manages to create, in such large volume, a wine with flavor and character like this, at around $12 per bottle.   Of course if you feel like celebrating something significant you can always try to find a bottle of the Penfolds’ most famous wine (probably the most famous Australian wine), the Grange.  I’ve been fortunate to taste a couple of these $500 per bottle wines and while anyone could argue about the value presented in a bottle of wine costing $500, I would always argue that the wine is sensational, even if I might only rarely get a taste of it…

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