Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Wine Tasting: Spotlight on Chile

 For many years now, Chile has distinguished itself in the wine industry as a source for good value wines produced from popular varietals such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenère, Sauvignon Blanc, and Merlot.  The influence of vintners who migrated from France to South America is evidenced by the strong presence of these grape varietals of French origin.

In my most recent wine tasting classes, we sampled two whites and four reds, including three Cabernet Sauvignon-dominated blends, plus a Cabernet Franc, from various wine-growing regions north and south of the capital Santiago.  Overall, the classes were very impressed by the high quality and very affordable price points.  The sweet spot with regards to pricing, again, is in the $15 to $25 price point range, and occasionally even a little less in this case.

All wines were purchased at Wine Works in Marlton, New Jersey, although some may be available in Pennsylvania wine shops.

Matetic EQ Coastal Sauvignon Blanc 2020 ($14)


 Origin: Valle Hermoso, Valle de Casablanca Denominacion de Origen (D.O.),

Varietals: 100% Sauvignon Blanc

Production/Tasting Notes: Vineyard 6 miles from Pacific Ocean; grey granite soil with iron-rich mica; organic grapes; cold soak for 12 hours before pressing under layer of inert gas; low temperature fermentation in stainless steel tanks; aged on fine lees for 4 months; 30% fermented in concrete vessels and neutral oak barrels to enhance mineral notes, texture and mouthfeel; complex nose dominated by citrus and tropical aromas, such as mango, papaya, grapefruit peel with light herbal notes; fresh, crisp,  concentrated,  vivid on the palate; lingering finish with underlying salty minerality. (92 points, Vinous) 

Food  Pairing: ceviche, tuna carpaccio; sushi; oysters; scallops; salads; goat or bleu cheeses

Alcohol: 13.5%


Mayu Pedro Ximenez 2020 ($13)


Feline approved!

Origin: Valle de Elqui D.O.

Varietal: 100% Pedro Ximenez

Production/Tasting Notes: Hand-harvested at one of the highest altitude vineyards in Chile (6,320 feet); fermentation in stainless steel; clarification by natural sedimentation; aged on fine lees for 4 months; dry, crisp; floral (white flower) and fruit aromas; citrusy; bright acidity; long finish. (90 points, Wine Advocate)

Food pairing: ceviche; fresh seafood; shellfish

Alcohol:  12.5%

Perez Cruz Cabernet Franc Limited Edition 2019 ($16)


Origin : Valle de Maipo D.O.

Varietal: 96% Cabernet Franc; 4% Petit Verdot

Production/Tasting Notes:  Total maceration period of 27 days; 14 months aging in French oak barrels (50% new); red fruit, herbal and spicy aromas with floral notes; fine tannins, lingering finish.
Food Pairings: lentil soup with ham hock; rack of lamb; rabbit rillettes


Alcohol: 14%


Concha y Toro Marques de Casa Concha Cabernet Sauvignon 2018 ($20)



Origin:  Valle de Maipo D.O.

Varietals: 86.5% Cabernet Sauvignon; 10% Cabernet Franc; 2.1% Syrah; 1.4% Petit Verdot

Production/Tasting Notes: Sourced from old-vine Pirque and Puente Alto vineyards at foot of Andes; stony, alluvial soil; semi-arid Mediterranean climate; daily thermal oscillation of 18 degrees Celsius prolongs ripening of grapes, concentrating and intensifying aromas of unctuous cherry, sarsaparilla; cedar; blackberry, tar; smoke; smooth, silky texture masks firm, underlying tannic structure; long, lingering finish. (92 points, James Suckling)

Food Pairing: grilled, roasted or stewed meats or game in rich sauces with touch of acidity and herbs such as rosemary, thyme, bay leaf



Montes Alpha Cabernet Sauvignon 2019 ($20)


Origin: Valle de Colchagua D.O.

Varietals: 90% Cabernet Sauvignon; 10% Merlot

Production/Tasting Notes: Granite, clay soils; hand-harvested, manual selection of bunches before destemming; maceration in fermentation tanks for 5 days, followed by fermentation of 7-10 days, then racked into stainless steel and concrete tanks; malolactic fermentation; 55%  aged in French oak barrels for 12 months (30% first use; 70% 2nd and 3rd use); complex array of aromas - black fruit, strawberry, blueberry, black plum; crème de cassis; notes of leather, tobacco, toast, toffee; smooth tannins on the palate; long finish. (94 points, James Suckling)  

Food  Pairings: red meats; Mongolian beef; pasta with Bolognese sauce; lamb chops     

Alcohol: 14.5%


Primus The Blend 2018 ($15)


Origin: Apalta, Valle de Colchagua

Varietals: 55% Cabernet Sauvignon; 20% Carmenère; 10% Petit Verdot; 10% Syrah; 5% Cabernet Franc          

Production/Tasting Notes:  Well-drained clay-loam and colluvial soils; organic, sustainably-farmed vineyards; Mediterranean climate; 66% aged in French oak barrels (18% new) for 12 months; 33% in 5000 liter foudres; the blend features particular characteristics from each of the varietals: structure from the Cab Sauv; red fruit delivered by the Merlot; weight and softness from Carmenère as well as spice; smooth, finish complex finish by virtue of Petit Verdot; persistence and elegance from Cab Franc. Medium body. (92 points, Tim Atkin, MW)

Food Pairing: lamb shank; grilled, roasted meats; barbecue ribs

Alcohol:  13.5 %


                    Notes on Chilean Wine-Growing Regions


Home of viticulture in Chile.  Vines first planted in the 1540s, but expanded greatly in the 1800s.  Located at the northern end of the Central Valley, just south of capital Santiago. High elevation and river gravels offer ideal combination for Bordeaux-style reds. Has become a world-class region for producing Cabernet Sauvignon. Alto Maipo, which includes sub-regions Puento Alto and Pirque, is the most prestigious of the viticultural areas.  Vineyards in this region run along the eastern edge of the Andes with altitudes between 1300 and 2500 feet. Warm sun and colder nights allow slow ripening and balanced acidity.  Colluvial soils are rocky and free-draining, stressing the vines which produce a higher concentration of sugars and acids. Other sub-regions are the Central Maipo and Maipo Bajo, the latter focusing more on wine-making and less on viticulture.


Central Chile region with great promise. Noted especially for Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmenère, Syrah.  Characterized by steep slopes on the edge of coastal mountains, free-draining granitic soils, stressing grapes that produce small yields and high concentrated flavors. Great variation in diurnal temperatures also help in creating grapes with balanced ripeness and acidity. Climate is warm, but cooled by ocean breezes; dry, but refreshed by rivers and occasional rainfall.


Located 250 miles north of Santiago on the edge of the Atacama Desert, currently the northernmost wine-growing region.  Traditionally focused exclusively on producing Pisco, Chile's trademark brandy; now producing bright, intensely aromatic wines, notably Sauvignon Blanc, Carmenère, Syrah and Pedro Ximenez .  Hot and dry, requiring irrigation.  High altitude - up to 6550 feet, along with bright, hot days followed by cool, fresh nights, allowing grapes to develop intense varietal character and refreshing levels of acidity.  Elqui means "narrow valley" in the local Quechua language. Rocky and thin soils with chalky components provide good drainage.


East-West Valley, about 20 miles long, located 60 miles northwest of Santiago.  Best known for crisp white wines, particularly, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, the Valley is now recognized as one of Chile's quality wine regions.  A relatively new region, plantings began in the 1980s. At 20 miles from the Pacific Ocean,  the Valley is strongly influenced by the cooling effects of the Humboldt Current, flowing up from the Antarctic.  The oceanic influence brings cool morning fog and greater cloud cover than elsewhere in northern Chile, enhancing the growing of white wines. A longer ripening period allows more time to develop greater flavor complexity while maintaining a balance of sugar and acidity.

Thursday, April 21, 2022

A Bordeaux-Fueled Movable Feast

 As a follow-up to the Burgundy wine dinner I reported on last summer (see my post of August 25, a small group of wine-loving friends gathered on a recent Sunday evening to delight in some of the best Bordeaux has to offer in sparkling, white and red wines accompanied by mouth-watering hors d'oeuvres, entrées and dessert.  (Even as the omicron wave has ebbed, we took the precaution of testing prior the dinner.)

To start off the evening, the first host popped open a bottle of Crémant de Bordeaux, which was perhaps the best value wine of the offerings at about $22, demonstrating that one does not have to break the bank to enjoy the world-renowned reputation of this region.  



The Croix de Roche Crémant, Rosé de Bordeaux NV is a blend of 40% Malbec, 40% Merlot, and 5% each of the other red varietals that are permitted by law in the vinification of  Bordeaux wines - Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Carmenère.  Pink salmon hued with aromas of red currant and berries, the palate is crisp and fresh, offering hints of white peach and apple cider and strawberry with a lingering finish of minerality.  Certified organic, this sparkler spends 6 months in Saint Emilion barrels, then is further aged for 36 months on its thin lees.  As I often point out, the crémants (French sparkling wines produced outside of Champagne) are budget-wise alternatives of dependable quality to their higher-priced cousins, and this one was no exception.

Up next was perhaps the most-celebrated white Bordeaux from Pessac Leognan in the Graves appellation of the Left Bank, Château Cabonnieux, a blend of 65% Sauvignon Blanc and 35% Semillon.


Aged 10 months in wooden casks (25% new oak), this grand cru classé exudes aromas of intense citrus fruit with a distinctive note of quinine, and on the palate, the rounded mouth feel is full of viscous white, candied fruit supplemented by cask aging which allows for extra cellaring time in the bottle.   As an aficionado of Sauvignon Blanc, I must point out that this Bordeaux style differs notably from those of other regions such as the Loire Valley, New Zealand and California in that it is more full bodied, denser, more viscous, and, with the barrel-aging, is suited for extra cellaring.  Furthermore, it is more of "food wine", best appreciated in conjunction with seafood, liver pate, white meat, cheeses and fruit desserts.  At our table, the host regaled us lobster-stuffed endive, petit gougères and a cheese platter of Roquefort and aged Welsh cheddar.

After a delightful array of appetizers and amuse-bouche paired with the bubbly and Carbonnieux, we migrated down the road nearby to the house of our next host to savor the Bordeaux reds along with an elegant and beautifully prepared entrée of braised short-ribs, haricots verts and potato purée.  (Apparently, I was so taken by the presentation and my appetite that I forgot to document the visual for which I apologize!)

The first red that we sampled was a 2016 Chateau Giscours, which is a Grand Cru Classé (Troisième cru or 3rd growth) from the Margaux appellation on the Left Bank.


A blend of predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon, along with Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot, Giscours is emblematic of the classic Margaux style in harmonizing elegance, bouquet and class. Exuding lush black fruit married with new oak flavors, this complex wine continues to release layers of concentrated aromas and flavors in an exquisite balance of power and vitality.  The Château itself has a 600 year history going back to when it was a defensive tower overlooking the marshlands of the Médoc at the time.  Wine production began on the estate in the 16th century.  Personally speaking, although I'm drawn to all manner of the Bordeaux styles, Margaux has a special place in my palate archive and library of senses, epitomizing elegance and class.  At about $92 a bottle, this is a splurge worth indulging in to experience the beauty and power of this classic.

Next on the Bordeaux "carte à vins", was a 2017 No. 3 d' Angélus, the third label of the Château Angélus Grand Vin, which attained Premier Grand Cru Classé "A" status in 2012.  Typical of Right Bank reds, Merlot is the predominant grape at 85%, supplemented with Cabernet Franc.


Aged in one to three-year-old barrels, this ruby-tinted cuvée offers up aromas of ripe red currant, red berry and plum with hints of graphite and subtle floral notes.  Although lighter in intensity and density than Cabernet Sauvignon-drive Left Bank reds, the Angélus is just as expansive and layered, balancing acidity and fine-grained tannins. (Students of my classes may recall the adage I often refer to as the mark of a well-balanced wine: FATA-Fruit, Acidity, Tannin, Alcohol which is beautifully exemplified in this wine.)  If you're a fan of Merlot, which is regaining its reputation as a world class wine after being maligned in the aftermath of the 2004 film Sideways, the Angelus a classic example of the power and prestige of this noble grape.

This family-run Château also dates back to the 16th century and is currently managed by Hubert Bouard de la Forest and his daughter Stéphane, a graduate of the Faculté d'Oenologie in Bordeaux, who represents the 8th generation. The estate's symbol and namesake refer to the angelus peal, or call to prayer, which tolls from the three Saint-Emilion churches overlooking the vineyards.

Our next wine was also from the Right Bank and Merlot-based - 2016 Chateau Vieux Chevrol from the Lalande de Pomerol appellation.                                      


Blended with 10% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Cabernet Franc, this organically farmed wine is aged in 600 liter casks (10% new oak) after being fermented with natural yeast and uses no filtration.  In 1925, the Lalande de Pomerol appellation was separated off by decree from the Pomerol designation.  As such, although this marks a loss of cachet of the more prestigious parent designation, it does usually result in more affordable pricing with high quality wines - the Chevrol was a very reasonable $29 per bottle.  

Darkly perfumed with notes of cassis, violet, leather, plum and blackberry, subtle, medium-grain tannins combine with moderate acidity to pair well with beef, lamb or game.  If you're on the fence about investing in a Merlot, a Lalande-de-Pomerol such as the Chateau Vieux Chavrol represents a very approachable initiation into the delights the Right Bank flagship grape.

Back to the other side of the river, our last featured red was from the prestigous Pauillac appellation, home of several of the top Grand Vins de Bordeaux, such as Lafite and Mouton-Rothschild.  Indeed, although our budget certainly would not allow such stratospheric aspirations, the tiny, 1-hectare estate of Château Chantecler is surrounded by the aforementioned, world-renowned Châteaux.


One of the last independent producers left in the Pauillac, Chantecler produces only a few hundred cases of the wine which is a blend of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 43% Merlot and 7% Cabernet Franc from 45+year old vines. Lush, silky, powerfully structured and exuding captivating perfumes of concentrated, dark fruits, Chantecler is primed for aging and developing for many more years, but was amply appreciated in its current state by our circle of friends and is representative of the ultimate expression of Pauillac's Premier Cru (first growth) terroir at a fraction of the price - upwards of $1,000 versus $95.  Because Bordeaux is such a large, high-quality wine-growing region, despite the eye-popping prices that the top wines can fetch on the open market, there are plenty of options for more down-to-earth pricing that often present equivalent or near-equivalent tasting experiences, certainly less than $100, and even at $40 or less. See the following excerpts for recommendations from the Wine Spectator special value wines from the Côtes de Bordeaux:

and the Côtes de Castillon : 

Moving onto the dessert phase of the evening, a delightfully scrumptious array of pastries was passed around the table  to tantalize our sweet tooth.

Continuing with the Bordeaux theme, the host presented us with a pour from a Sauternes that she and her husband picked up during one of their frequent visits to France - a 2003 Château d'Arche-Lafaurie



 A typical blend of Semillon and Sauvignon Blanc produced from grapes concentrated by the magic of pourriture noble (noble rot), intoxicating aromas of pear, apricot, peach, honey and orange alternate together on a palate of viscous, lush sweetness that complement the fruity, succulent pastries.  (Sauternes also pairs well with bleu cheese and foie gras, if you're so inclined.)  Such was a the pièce de résistance that topped off the evening featuring Bordeaux libations that have long been standard bearers of the ultimate in wine culture.

Special thanks to our hosts Carroll, Robin and Bruce for the splendid choice of wines and lovingly prepared food as well as their warm hospitality.  Also, a shout-out to Mike and Linda for engaging conversation.  It was a rich and convivial evening of gastronomic and oenological delights, not to mention long-delayed lively social interaction, which will be treasured for years come.

Post-script: all wines, except for the Sauternes, were purchased at the Corkscrew Wine Shop in Princeton, New Jersey.

Thursday, March 24, 2022

Italian Wines: Off the Beaten Path

 There are over 300 grape varietals grown in Italy that are made into wine.  You may be familiar with at least a handful of the more popular ones, such as Sangiovese, Pinot Grigio, Moscato and Nebbiolo.  However, with so many others that are lesser known, yet just as worthy, if not more, it behooves the wine aficionado to make the extra effort to seek them out for a broader appreciation and understanding of what Italy has to offer.

In my latest class, we sampled several of these "off the beaten path" wines from the northernmost region, Piedmont, all the way down to Sicily.  Styles ranged from light, crisp and fruity to dark, complex and full-bodied.  So no matter your particular tastes, you can be assured there's something that will fit your palate, and at a reasonable price point.

One caveat is that although I was able to find all these wines in Pennsylvania State Stores, except for the Grignolino which I purchased at Moore Brothers in Pennsauken, New Jersey, I did have to travel to many different locations since supplies varied quite a bit from store to store.  It's always a good idea, therefore,  to call ahead of time to make sure what you're looking for is in stock as the search function on the state website is not always up to date.  Also, these wines are often Chairman's Select, so when you see them, grab 'em right away because you never know if or when they will come back.

Roberto Sarotto Virgilio Gavi 2020  ($11)


Origin: Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita (DOCG) Gavi

Varietals: 100% Cortese

Tasting Notes: Expressive aromas of acacia, floral scents, green apples, Bosc pear, ripe lemon; apricot; dry, crisp acidity; refreshing palate with elegant, fruity character; long finish. (Reminiscent of Sauvignon Blanc?)

Food  Pairing: light appetizers; fish, white meats

Alcohol: 12%


La Segreta Grillo 2019  ($13)


Origin: Denominazione di Origine (DOC) Sicilia (Sicily)

Varietal: 100% Grillo

Production/Tasting Notes: Hand-harvested; fermentation at 59 degrees; following fermentation, maturation on the lees; delicate aromas of citrus blossoms, notes of white peaches, grapefruit, seabreeze; mineral; ash; fresh, smooth on the palate; medium body; tangy acidity. (92  points, James Sucking)

Food pairing: aperitif; grilled white meats; fish; seafood; hors d'oeuvres; vegetarian dishes

Alcohol:  12.5%


Terredora di Paolo Corte di Giso Irpinia Falanghina 2020  ($17)


Origin:  Irpinia Falanghina DOC

Varietals: 100% Falanghina

Production/Tasting Notes: High altitude (600 meters) cultivation; cold maceration on the skins; fermented in stainless steel tanks at cool temperatures; aged on its lees in stainless steel tanks; rich, intense bouquet of fruity aromas, apple, pineapple, quince, pear; fresh, clean palate,  vibrant acidity; long, flowery finish. 

Food Pairing: hors d'oeuvres; cold buffet; fish dishes; buffalo mozzarella; fresh cheeses



Gianni Doglia Grignolino d'Asti 2020  ($17)


Origin: Gignolino d'Asti DOC

Varietals: 100% Grignolino

Production/Tasting Notes: Organically farmed vineyards; calcareous soils; hand-harvested; gentle press; maceration of 2-3 days; no skin contact during fermentation; nose of strawberry, clove, roses, white pepper; fresh red fruits and spices on the palate with soft tannins.                      

Food  Pairings: roast poultry; grilled chicken; turkey sausage; braised rabbit; pasta puttanesca; pepperoni pizza  

Alcohol: 13%


Torre Mora Cauru Etna Rosso 2019  ($13)


Origin: Etna Rosso DOC (Sicily)

Varietals: 85% Nerello Mascalese, 15% Nerello Cappuccio

Production/Tasting Notes:  Organic grapes; lightly oaked; fresh, fruity; aromas of wild berries, blue flowers, hint of spice; lithe tannins on the palate; juicy strawberry, blood orange, wild herbs; lingering finish. (91 points, Wine Enthusiast)

Food Pairing: Wild mushroom and eggplant; pasta with red clams sauce

Alcohol:  14.5 %


Goretti Montefalco Sagrantino 2015  ($18; quoted as $40)


Origin : Montefalco Sagrantino DOCG (Umbria)

Varietal: 100% Sagrantino

Production/Tasting Notes:  Hand harvested; aged 14-18 months in barriques; 30 months maturation in total; limestone-clay soil; concentrated,    rich, spicy; aromas of dark, ripe red fruit, underbrush, prune, mocha; rounded, full-bodied; dried cherry, raisin, licorice, tobacco on the palate; well-structured with tightly-knit, gripping tannins. (91 points, Wine Enthusiast)            
Food Pairings:  pasta dishes with intense tomato sauce, roasted or grilled meats or fish; spicy chicken, beef, lamb, game or cheeses.   


Notes on Grape Varietals


Primary white varietal associated with the Gavi region of southeast Piedmont.  Noted for its bracing acidity, with crisp, lime, herbal and grassy aromatic notes and flavors of apple, peach and honeydew.  Historically, dates back to the 17th and long considered Piedmont's white varietal.  Also found in the Veneto region where it's typically blended with Trebbiano and Garganega.


Primary grape in Marsala wine.  Vinified as both a single varietal and blend.  Light, fresh wine with nutty, fruit-driven flavors, including lemon and apple.  May have originated in Sicily, and reputed to be a favorite of Julius Caesar.  A contender for the quintessential Italian table white: light, easy-drinking and good value.


Ancient grape of the Campania region in southern Italy.  Said to be the grape variety behind Falernian, the famous wine of Roman Antiquity. May be of Greek origin.  Thrives in the porous volcanic soils around Mt. Vesuvius. Main component of the Falerno del Massico and Sannio DOC white wines. Can have a slight pine scent, noted for its citrus-blossom aromas, particularly bitter orange, and apple and pear flavors on the palate with spicy or mineral notes.  Often blended with other indigenous Italian varietals.       


Pale red wine of the Monferrato hills in the Piedmont. The name is derived from the Piedmontese dialectal term grignolo meaning "pip".  Naturally high in tannins and acidity.  A local curiosity overshadowed by Nebbiolo and Barbera.  Two DOC regions devoted to this variety:  Grignolino d'Asti and Grignolino del Monferrato Casalese.

Nerello Mascalese

Highly regarded, dark-skinned variety mostly closely associated with the volcanic soils around Mt. Etna in Sicily, aka "Nebbiolo of the South". Perfume reminiscent of Barolo and Burgundy. Noted for producing taut, fresh wines with fruity, herbaceous flavors, excellent minerality and earthy nuance.  Most commonly blended with Nerello Cappuccio.  Takes its name from the Mascali plain between Mt. Etnan and the coast.  Nerello refers to the black skin of the grape. Planted in the some of the highest elevations in Europe - up to 1000 meters (3280 feet).


Deeply red varietal grown mainly in Umbria region of central Italy. One of the most tannic of Italian grapes and as such demonstrates great affinity for oak aging (a minimum of 12 months in oak, 37 months total). Dark, dense wine with black cherry and ripe blackberry flavor profiles, under laid with spicy, earthy secondary characteristics.  Montefalco Sagrantino DOCG is the highest expression of the single variety.  

 Other Italian Varietals To Seek Out


Gaglioppo - soft red from Calabria

Refosco - dark-skinned, high acid grape with grassy, violet aromas from Friuli-Venezia-Giulia (northeast Italy)

Schioppettino - deep-colored, medium-bodied wine from Friuli-Venezia-Giulia (a favorite of mine when I can find it!)

Groppello - medium-bodied, bitter almond red from Lake Garda region

Teroldego - deeply colored, intensely fruity red from Trentino region


Arneis - recently renascent, revived grape from Piedmont gaining traction in US market; floral-scented, delicate aromas belie fuller body and abundant flavors. (Skip the Pinot Grigio, and indulge your palate!)

Pecorino - dry, minerally white from Le Marche (Marches)

Garganega - main white grape of Soave wines from the Veneto

Grechetto - two different varietals, from Todi and Orvieto, sometimes blended together; light-bodied, highly acidic

Saturday, January 15, 2022

Wine of the Year? (2005) - Portugal Does It Again!

 Every once in a while you come across a wine that's so special in its own way that it is worth writing home about - or, in this case, devoting a whole blog post to it.  I should preface this piece by explaining what brought about making such a discovery.  

A few months ago, I got together with a good friend of mine and former colleague, who is now in the wine business, at the Spring Mill Cafe, a long-established French BYOB in Conshohocken.  I thought it would be a the perfect occasion to break out a nice bottle of Bordeaux that had been cellaring in my cave for quite a few years (it was a 2005 Saint Emilion) .  Alas! As soon as the server poured us a sample and we took a sniff, we could tell something was awry - it was corked (spoiled by a very unpleasant cork taint)! It was such a disappointment since I'd been looking forward to tasting it for a long time.  

I decided it was time to test-sample some of the other older bottles in my cellar so I wouldn't get another unwelcome surprise.  This is when the Coravin wine preservation gizmo comes in really handy.  (I had invested in one of these during the first year of the pandemic, having saved up a little money from the lock-down.)

A prime candidate was another 2005 vintage bottle in my cellar that I was anxious to try and that I probably bought some years ago at the Lisbon Liquors and Wines shop in Newark, New Jersey, which I wrote about previously in this space.


As I dribbled out a sample from the Coravin gadget, swirled and sniffed, I was very pleased to detect no sign of cork taint, vinegar or other off-putting olfactory sensations that may spoil the enjoyment of a well-aged wine.  Indeed, what I took in through the nose were deep, rich, revelatory aromas of dark red fruit, pomegranate, cranberry along with a broad palate of burnished mahogany, leather, baked spice and cigar box. These attributes only intensified when I poured myself a full glass with dinner the next day.  The wine's intensity and deep, complex flavors were balanced by steely, but restrained tannins extending to a medium-long finish. Such a heady wine seemed to imply a high alcohol content, yet it comes in at only 12.5%, certainly on the lower end for most Portuguese wines, red or white.

This Reserva hails from the Barraida region in north central Portugal, between Lisbon and Porto, near the Atlantic coast, which is duly noted in Hugh Johnson' Pocket Wine Book as a particularly good value in each of its classes, and for its Baga red, one of the dominant varietals in the region.  I couldn't find the exact percentages for this particular cuvée, but it does include two other common Portuguese varietals, namely Tinto Roriz (Tempranillo) and Castelão, in addition to the Baga.

I have no recollection of what I actually paid for it, but it was likely in the $12-15 range, no doubt an exceptional value.  And this is one of the key factors in anointing it "Wine of the Year" - not necessarily the best, most perfect, or sublime of that year, but certainly, the most memorable and one that will stay with me for many years to come.

For more perspective on special wines, please see this column by my favorite wine writer and critic, Eric Asimov, who probes what makes a  wine "great".

As we enter into another year of unknowns, I encourage you to transform an ordinary "lock-down" day into something special by treating yourself to that rainy-day wine. 


Friday, December 31, 2021

Climate Change and the Wine Industry - a Special 60 Minutes Report

 This past Sunday, 60 Minutes broadcast a special report on how climate change is affecting the wine industry.  The piece focused especially on France and England, and how wine producers are adapting to changes in the climate, including drought, flood, increasing temperatures in both winter and summer seasons and longer growing seasons.  Of particular note is the burgeoning sparkling wine production in southern England.  Already there are quite a few wineries that are giving the Champagne region and its dominance of high quality fizzy wines a run for its money.  A few years before the pandemic, I had the opportunity to sample some of England's finest sparklers and was duly impressed.  So on this New Year's eve, you may want to alter your buying habits and look for some British bubbly.  Cheers!

Sunday, November 21, 2021

Value Wines for $12 or Less - a Tasting

 For the first time in two years, I held an in-person wine tasting class!  A long time coming, we were finally able to commune together around some good value wines while observing safety protocols.  I chose some of my favorite moderately priced wines by well-known, reputable producers that do not disappoint and are easy on the budget.  Most of these producers feature a full portfolio of wines that run the gamut from affordable "entry" wines to high-end, highly prized cuvées.  Whatever your budget, you can be assured of a high quality product that will tantalize your palate.

Of those we sampled, the Joel Gott and the Penfolds appeared to be the overall winners at the remarkable price of about $12; they were certainly my favorites. In addition to these particular wines, I also highly recommend wines Portuguese and Spanish wines as available in the $8-12 range for the budget conscious.

For further information and recommendations on value wines, check out this article by Eric Asimov of the New York Times from earlier this year.


Bonterra Sauvignon Blanc 2020



Origin: Mendocino, California

Varietals: 100% Sauvignon Blanc (Organic)

Production/Tasting Notes: Slow, cool fermentation followed by a few months aging in stainless steel; aromas of grapefruit, kumquat, mango, passion fruit, chermoya (banana/pineapple/kiwi). (90 points, James Suckling)        

Food Pairing: Grilled fish; shellfish; ahi tuna salad


La Vieille Ferme Blanc 2019


Origin: Southern Rhône Valley, France

Varietals: Bourbolence; Grenache Blanc, Ugni Blanc, Vermentino (Rolle)

Production/Tasting Notes: Light crush followed by pressing in pneumatic press; stainless steel fermentation; aromas of fresh, (white flesh) fruit; spring flowers; lemon-citrus;  bright acidity; lively, crisp refreshing palate; long finish

Food  Pairing: apéritif; cold buffet

Alcohol: 13%


Herederos del Marqués de Riscal 2020


Origin: Rueda DO (Denominacion de Origen)

Varietal: 100% Verdejo

Tasting Notes: 100% Organic; stainless steel fermentation for 20 days at controlled temperatures between 13 and 16 degrees Celsius; sur lie 1-2 months; aromas of white flowers and herbs (fennel, fresh grass, verbena); notes of citrus, peach, melon; rich, full mouth feel; touch of bitterness on the  persistent finish.

Food pairing: fish, shellfish, chicken; cold meats

Alcohol:  13%


Joel Gott Sauvignon Blanc 2020


Origin:  Santa Barbara, California

Varietals: 100% Sauvignon Blanc

Production/Tasting Notes: Long, cool fermentation in stainless steel; aromas of honeydew melon, pineapple, white peach, pear with citrus notes; ripe, tropical fruit flavors on the palate with crisp, refreshing acidity; ruby red grapefruit on the long, clean finish.

Food Pairing: Grilled fish; shellfish; ahi tuna salad



La Vieille Ferme 2018


Origin: Southern Rhone

Varietals: Carignan, Cinsault, Grenache, Syrah

Production/Tasting Notes: grapes lightly crushed and fermented in cement vats of 150 and 300 hectolitres; aged in large oak barrels for 10 months; notes of red fruit and Morello cherries, vanilla and red licorice soft tannins; long finish. (87 points, Wine Spectator)                

Food  Pairings: roast chicken; skirt steak    

Alcohol: 14%


Bogle Essential Red 2017


Origin: Clarksburg, California

Varietals: Petite Sirah, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Old Vine Zinfandel

Production/Tasting Notes:  Barrel aged in American Oak for 12 months; notes of cedar, black plums; medium to full bodied; velvety, plush on the palate; rich, red fruit.

Food Pairing: cheeseburger; pizza; tomato-based dishes

Alcohol:  14.5 %


Penfolds Koonunga Hill Shiraz Cabernet 2018


Origin : Barossa Valley, McLaren Vale, Langhorne Creek, Coonawarra, Wrattonbully, Clare Valley, Padthaway; South Australia

Varietal: 70% Shiraz; 30% Cabernet Sauvignon

Production/Tasting Notes:  Ten months aging in seasoned oak hogheads; aromatics of red licorice, fennel root and black rose; hints of dried sage, thyme, toasted oak; plum, dark cherry and blackberry on the palate; undertones of vanilla bean, spice, dried rosemary, sage; fine grained tannins provide structure and balance to fruit and length to finish  
Food Pairings: grilled meat with roasted vegetable


Alcohol: 14.5%


Notes on Wine Producers

Bonterra Organic Vineyards

Vegetarian, GMO free, low sulfite, made with organic grapes. Awarded Winery of the Year in 2016 by Wine Enthusiast. Received the 2020 California Green Medal in the Environment category, recognized as the California winery that “best demonstrates Environmental Stewardship through maximized environmental benefits from implementing sustainable practices.”  Awarded the international 2020 Drinks Business Green Award for Best Organic Initiative, for the Tastes Like Saving the Planet advertising campaign.

La Vieille Ferme

La Vieille Ferme, a label of the Famille Perrin, proprietors of Chateau de Beaucastel, a renowned Chateauneuf du Pape estate, has been producing wines for over 40 years. The red is mostly sourced from the Ventoux regions in the Southern Rhône; the altitude of the Luberon brings freshness and finesse to the whites and rosés.


Marques de Riscal

Founded in 1858 by Guillermo Hurtado de Amezaga and first bottled wines in 1862. First non-French wine to obtain the Diploma of Honor from the Bordeaux Exhibition in 1895. started production of the first white wines from Rueda in 1972. In 1974 he introduced the French variety Sauvignon Blanc in the area. In 1980 it was one of the driving wineries of the DO Rueda. The DO Rueda is one of the few European wine regions specialized in the production of white wine and the protection and development of its native variety, Verdejo.  Vinos de los Herederos del Marqués de Riscal has the largest vineyard owned by the Rueda Denomination of Origin   (330 hectares); in addition, it's one of the first wine producers in the area, as well as one of the largest in Castilla y Lion.

Joel Gott Wines

Launched in 1996 with Zinfandel sourced from grapes sourced from Amador County, California. With the success of the Zinfandel, more varietals were added to the portfolio; now leasing vineyards in California, Oregon and Washington, and storing barrels in Napa. In 1999, launched a series of gourmet burger stands in the Bay Area named Gott's Roadside.            Gott Wines are now partnered with Trinchero Family Estates which markets and distributes the wines.

Bogle Vineyards

Bogle family has been farming in the Clarksburg (California) region for six generations; their involvement in the wine business spans back 50 years. Warren Vernon Bogle, in the 4th generation, purchased the first acreage after serving in WWII. It wasn't until 1968 that Warren and his son Chris planted the first 20 acres of wine grapes on the Home Ranch. For 10 years, the family grew grapes for other wineries, then releasing the wine under their own label in 1978. The original winery, constructed in 1979, still stands today. In 1989, Warren's son Chris and his wife Patty undertook the winery project in earnest. Chris farmed, while Patty did the books at night, with offices in the family home. Chris proudly grew the wine grape farming operation, reaching his goal of 1,000 acres before he passed away in 1997. Upon his death, Patty dove in, taking over all winery management and leading a core team of staff, many of whom are still at the winery today. Her three children, Warren, Jody and Ryan work in the day-to-day operations of the winery.  Awarded 2018 Green Medal Leader Award, which recognizes the vineyard that best demonstrates environmentally sound, socially equitable and economically viable sustainability practices. Starting with the 2017 vintage, all 91 growers were required to implement the California Rules for Sustainability standards. This resulted in 96% of all grapes crushed at Bogle in 2018 being Certified Green.



Established in 1844 by Christopher and Mary Penfold. Mary assumed total responsibility in 1870 after Christopher's death.  By 1907, Penfolds had beome South Australia's largest winery.  Penfolds Grange, one of the most foremost and revered wines in the world first, was first produced in 1960 by Chief Winemaker Max Schubert. In 1988, Grange was given a heritage listing in South Australia.  Penfolds has garnered 29 Winery of the Year awards from Wine & Spirits Magazine, more than any other winery in the world.  Koonunga Hill is the "gateway" or entry level label of the Penfolds collection of wines.