Tuesday, January 22, 2019

The Best Red Wine under $20 ... No Surprise - It's Portuguese!

It is axiomatic that the serious wine consumer seeks out real bargains for quality wines.  Anyone with loads of cash can spend huge sums of money and be pretty well-assured that they will end up of with a good quality wine (though it might not actually be to their taste!)  On the other hand, for those of us who are more budget-minded, discovering a bottle of exceptional quality at a very reasonable cost- well, that may be described as the "Holy Grail" of wine-shopping.  What we're talking about here is something known as QPR, or "Quality-to-Price-Ratio", in other words, high quality in proportion to price.

Throughout my wine tasting classes and in this blog, one of my goals has always been to highlight truly fine wines at affordable prices, and we are fortunate to live an era where this is eminently possible.  In Pennsylvania wine stores, there is the "Chairman's Select" designation which features wines of generally high quality at discount prices, courtesy of the purchasing power of the State monopoly, the largest wine buyer in the country.  Many of you have taken advantage of these discounted wines, as have I. One of the drawbacks to these sales is that they are usually once and done, which can be very frustrating to the wine consumer.  For this reason, I often recommend wine shops in New Jersey and Delaware, such as Total Wine and Wineworks, which typically stock replenished supplies of your favorite wines.

Another wine emporium I patronize once or twice year, particularly for Portuguese wines, is Lisbon Wine & Liquors in Newark, NJ, which I've referenced several times in this blog.  And that bring us to the specific topic of this post - the best red wine for under $20, which I am happy to tout after decades of exploring and tasting wines throughout the US and Europe and elsewhere.  Drumroll, please......




The bottle sports a minimalist artistic label that belies the astounding quality and distinctive traits which make this wine so special.  I've written previously about wines from Esporao and the fine wines of all types that it produces in the Alentejo and Douro regions of Portugal.  I've always enjoyed the full-bodied expressiveness of both their whites and reds, which capture the essence of the indigenous grapes and the particular terroir from which the wines emanate.

Upon a recent tasting, I was so struck by the powerful, intoxicating aromas of blackberry and forest floor,  the luscious dark red fruit flavors, the well-balanced interplay of silky, yet firm tannins, lively acidity and plush mouthfeel that I deemed it worthy of a full blog post on its own in order to alert my readers to such an exceptional wine at a very high QPR.

Below you will find the technical specifications as detailed by the winemaker:

Philosophy: The first wine made by Esporão in 1985. Made from estate grown grapes, shows the consistency and the rich, ripe fruit characters which are typical of the best Alentejo red wines. 

Harvest Year: The low winter rainfall contributed to a smaller than average grape harvest with deeply concentrated high quality wines. 

Viticulture: Soil Type: Clay loam soils with granite and schist mother rock. Average age of vines: 15 years. 

Grapes Varieties: Aragonês (Tempranillo) 40%, Alicante Bouschet 30%,  Trincadeira 20%, Cabernet Sauvignon 10%

Vinification: Each variety hand picked and vinified separately, fermented in open tanks with robotic plunging and temperature control (22-25ºC), membrane pressed, malolactic fermentation in stainless steel tanks. 

Maturation: Matured for 12 months in 70% American oak and 30% French oak barrels. Following bottling, the wine was aged for at least 8 months before market release. 

Chemical Analyses Alcohol: 14,5% Total Acidity: 6,40 g/l pH: 3,55 Reducing Sugar: 2,5 g/l Wine makers: David Baverstock and Luís Patrão. 

Colour: Dense deep red. Aroma: Complex spicy aroma of dark berry fruits, with notes of toasty vanilla. 

Palate: Firm and well structured with dense fruit. Fruit is still youthful, with supporting tannins that will provide ageing potential. 

Ideal Consumption Date: 2015-2021 

Formats Available: 750 ml, 1,5 L, 3 L.

Price points for this and other vintages hover around $18.

The currently available vintage is the 2015. As noted above, these wines may be aged for several years, and you will be well rewarded by stashing it away for at least a few years.

For more information about the Herdade do Esporao, visit their website at 


Lisbon Wine & Liquors typically carries the latest vintages of Esporao wines, including one of its entry-level wines called Monte Velho, which is a great deal, for both red and white, retailing for about $7 a bottle at the store and available for $10.99 in PA stores at last check.

Friday, December 21, 2018

A Portuguese Wine Dinner

At a recent gathering, a circle of wine-loving friends enjoyed an array of Portuguese wines, including a white Port, that I assembled for the occasion.  As readers of this blog and attendees of my wine tasting classes will attest, I've been a major booster of Portuguese wines for many years.  They remain, in my opinion, the best deal for solid, good quality wines at very affordable prices.  To wit, all but the Port and the Dom Martinho wines, came in at less than $10 a bottle at Lisbon Liquors in Newark, New Jersey.  You will find a fair selection of Portuguese wines, at somewhat higher prices, in Pennsylvania wine stores and at Total Wine in Jersey and Delaware, but it's definitely worth a trip up to the Ironbound neighborhood in Newark to partake of the tastes and flavors of this Lusophone community which I have already written about in a previous post.  

The wines were accompanied by delicious antipasto (cheeses, chorizo, prosciutto, marinated mushrooms, fresh anchovies, etc), a main dish of stuffed pork loin, roasted brussels sprouts salad, pasta with tuna, roasted cauliflower with pine nuts and raisins, and flat breads topped with roasted red peppers and caramelized onions.




Cambridge Ice White Port (NV)


Classification: Port

Varietals: Rabigato, Malvasia Fina, Moscatel, Códega, Viosinho

Production/Tasting Notes: Vinification in stainless steel vats with automatic pumping. De-stemmed grapes, half tanning, one day of fermentation with the masses, one day fermentation in open spout; golden yellow color; aroma is young, floral, with notes of apricot in syrup and orange peel; velvety palate with balanced acidity; notes of honey 

Food Pairing: Drink as an aperitif, as a starter or on any other occasion; serve well-chilled or on ice

Alcohol: 20%

Esporão Duas Castas 2016


Classification: Vinho Regional Alentejano (Indiçao Geografica  Alentejano)

Varietals: 50% Roupeiro; 50% Viosinho

Production/Tasting Notes:  Whole bunch pneumatic pressing, cold settling, temperature controlled stainless steel fermentation (14ºC), ageing on fine lees, stabilization, filtration; vinified separately; Roupeiro - delicate floral aromatics with stone fruit on the palate; Viosinho - fresh citric and orange blossom aromatics accompanied by strong finishing acidity on the palate; fresh, rich and full bodied with a light mineral touch and a long persistent finish.

Alcohol: 13.5%

Quinta da Alorna Arinto 2017


Classification: Denominaçao de Origen (DOC) do Tejo

Varietal: 100% Arinto

Production/Tasting Notes: Grapes come from two distinct areas in Quinta da Alorna, Charneca and Leziria;  destemmed in full and then pressed; after must was clarified, fermentation at 14ºC in stainless steel vats began; before bottling, wine was placed in batches, stabilized and filtered.
Nose: intense aroma with notes of citrus fruits, banana and green tea.
Palate: flavor is unctuous and the acidity level balanced, adding vivacity to the wine.
Finish:  persistent, sustaining the aromatic sensations.

Food Pairings: Fish with different types of sauces; shellfish; soft sheeses and cheeses with a mild aromatic intensity

Alcohol: 13.5%

Adega Mãe Pinta Negra Tinto Red 2016


Classification: Vinho Regional Lisboa

Varietals: 52% Aragonez (Tempranillo); 48% Castelao

Production/Tasting Notes: limestone soil; Atlantic climate; fermentation in stainless steel vats, controlled temperature (22-25 °C) for 10 days; intense nose with notes of fresh fruit, wild berries and floral light; Very soft in the mouth with a sweet tooth tannins; serving temperature 
59 °F

Food pairing: grilled meat, pasta

Alcohol: 14%

Cabriz Colheita Selecionada  Vinho Tinto


Classification: DOC Dao

Varietals: 40% Alfrocheiro; 40% Tinto Roriz (Tempranillo); 20% Touriga Nacional

Production/Tasting Notes: Crush with total destemming, alcoholic fermentation at 26°C and prolonged skin maceration; 6 months aging in French oak barrels; aroma: fresh red fruits, forest fruits jam, spices and toasted notes; palate: fruity, smooth, elegant, harmonious. (2014 vintage - 90 pts, Wine Spectator, April 2, 2016)

Food pairing: soft cheese, delicate fish, white and red meats based on Mediterranean, Chinese, Indian and African Cuisine. Consume at 64. °F 

Alcohol: 13%

Dom Martinho (Quinta do Carmo) 2016


Classification: Vinho Regional Alentejano

Varietal: 50% Aragonez; 30% Trincadeira; 15% Alicante Bouschet; 5% Cabernet Sauvignon

Production/Tasting Notes: 6-9 months months aging in barrels; aromas of ripe wild fruits, especially ripe red fruits and some compote; balanced acidity of this wine gives it a freshness and unique balance.

Food Pairing: meat and game dishes, partridge, rabbit or wild boar;

Alcohol: 14%

Vallado Vinho Tinto 2015


Classification: DOC Douro

Varietals: 25% Touriga Franca; 25% Touriga Nacional; 25% Tinta Roriz; 5% Sousao; 20% Mixed Old Vineyard
Production/Tasting Notes: Fermented in 10 and 5 ton stainless steel tanks for a week under controlled temperature varying between 25º and 27ºC;  70% aged for 16 months in stainless steel tanks; the remaining 30% aged in 225 litres used French Oak barriques (3rd and 4th year) for 16 months until final blending; bottled in February 2017Aroma: concentrated, with intense mature red fruit aromas, hints of violets and "esteva" (a local Portuguese resinous bush); mature round tannins; long persistent finish
Alcohol: 13.5%

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Beaujolais - A Wine Tasting

Beaujolais is perhaps one of the most misunderstood or misconstrued wines among American wine consumers. Typically, it is associated with Nouveau Beaujolais, that frilly, fruity, fizzy libation whose release each November is cause for silly celebrations touting its effervescent and ephemeral attributes. There are, however, much more serious renditions of Beaujolais for the wine connoisseur that are too often overlooked Stateside.  In my latest wine tasting classes, we  sampled the delights of "real" Beaujolais and learned about its different classifications, including several "Crus", the pièce de résistance of this region. 

Jean-Paul Brun Terres Dorées "L'Ancien" Vieilles Vignes Beaujolais 2016

Appellation: Appellation Beaujolais Contrôlée 

Varietal: 100% Gamay

Production/Tasting Notes:  80+ year old vines; clay and limestone soil; grapes destemmed, fermented and then aged in concrete vats; grapes grown in tighter bunches with fewer and smaller, thicker-skinned berries, yielding more concentrated flavor; rich red-fruit aromas and flavors with soft tannins.

Food  Pairing: Roast turkey with cranberry sauce; grilled salmon fillet with roasted fennel; Moroccan lamb tagine with apricot

Alcohol: 12%

Louis Jadot Beaujolais-Villages 2016

Appellation: Appellation Beaujolais-Villages Contrôlée

Varietal: 100% Gamay

Production/Tasting Notes: Plump wine with notes of strawberry, black cherry and spice

Food pairing: hors d'oeuvres, mild cheeses, poultry dishes

Alcohol:  12.5%

Clos de la Roilette Fleurie 2017

Appellation: Appellation Fleurie Contrôlée

Varietals: 100%  Gamay

Production/Tasting Notes:  Soil: manganese, granite, clay; semi-carbonic maceration with submerged hat, temperature control and native yeasts, then aged in large oak foudres; deep blackcurrant color with a hint of purple, a restrained nose of crème de cassis, a rich, full mouth with aromas of cassis, black cherries, and a nutty character, and finishes with zesty acidity.

Alcohol: 13%

Laurent Perrachon et Fils Juliénas "Roche Bleue" 2015

Appellation: Appellation Juliénas Contrôlée

Varietal: 100%  Gamay

Production/Tasting Notes: 40+ year old vines; soil type: schist, granite, clay; hand harvested; 9 months aging in concrete tanks and foudres; intense ruby hue; bouquet dominated by fruit aromas peach, red fruit and flowers;  serve at 13°C; aging 4-5 years; 

Food  Pairings :  coq au vin, game birds or poultry en sauce.

Alcohol: 13%

Jean-Marc Burgaud Morgon Côte de Py 2016

Appellation : Appellation Morgon Contrôlée

Varietal: 100% Gamay

Production/Tasting Notes:  rich, structured and dense; tannins make wine built to last; intense with ripe black fruits; 94 Points Wine Enthusiast

Alcohol: 13%

Jean-Paul Brun Terre Dorées Côte de Brouilly 2015 

Appellation: Appellation Côte de Brouilly Contrôlée

Varietals: 100% Gamay

Production/Tasting Notes: Granite soil; grapes destemmed, fermented and aged in concrete vats; vibrant aromas of ripe blackberries and boysenberries, sweet raspberries, some strawberry jam and slightly earthy tones; medium-bodied, very youthful and quite dense on the palate with dry, concentrated and even somewhat robust flavors of tart cranberries, sour cherry bitterness, a little bit of peppery spice, a hint of earthiness and a touch of fresh red plums; sinewy, muscular the ripeness and sweetness in the nose are conspicuously absent from the taste; seriously structured for a Beaujolais with its high acidity and moderately grippy tannins.

Alcohol: 12%

What is Beaujolais?

There are essentially 4 classifications of (red) Beaujolais:

1) Standard Beaujolais (including Beaujolais Supérieur which are standard Beaujolais wines vinified to a higher level of quality, and made from grapes which have reached optimal ripeness.)

2) Beaujolais-Villages: the appellation for red, white and rosé wines from an area made up of 38 villages in the north of the Beaujolais region. The hilly, granitic terroir here is considered superior to that of the flatter lands in the south of Beaujolais and, as a result, Beaujolais-Villages wines are considered to be of a higher quality than those of the straight Beaujolais appellation. These light, juicy wines, based overwhelmingly on the Gamay grape variety, display varietal characters of red fruit and spice.

3) Beaujolais Nouveau: wines which are released almost immediately after harvest. Arguably the most famous (but least serious!) expression of the Gamay grape variety, these light, fruity reds are usually the first of the year's harvest in France, and are released annually to huge international fanfare.

4) Cru Beaujolais:  any of the ten districts long recognized as the finest in the Beaujolais region. Each of these (Brouilly, Chénas, Chiroubles, Côte de Brouilly, Fleurie, Juliénas, Morgon, Moulin-à-Vent, Régnié and Saint-Amour) has its own appellation.

What is Carbonic Maceration?

A winemaking technique most commonly associated with the Beaujolais region of France. Grapes are whole-bunch fermented in a sealed container which has been flushed with carbon dioxide, creating an anaerobic (oxygen-free) environment. Fermentation begins inside the still-whole berries, creating aromatic flavor compounds (phenols) not found in conventional fermentations. These compounds are responsible for the 'banana' and 'bubblegum' aromas associated with carbonically macerated wines. The technique produces wines which are fruitier and less tannic than those made from crushed grapes. Genuine, pure carbonic maceration is very hard to achieve, because the grapes at the bottom of the container typically split under the weight of the fruit above.

Notes on Winemakers

Jean Paul Brun is located in Charnay, a village in the Southern Beaujolais just north of Lyons, in a beautiful area known as the "Region of Golden Stones". Brun is the owner and winemaker at this 40-acre family estate and has attracted the attention of the French and American press for the wonderfully fruity and delicate wines he produces.

Brun wants to make "old-style" Beaujolais and his vinification differs from the prevailing practices in the region. He believes that the charm of Gamay's fruit is best expressed by the grapes' indigenous yeasts, rather than by adding industrial yeast. Virtually all Beaujolais is now made by adding a particular yeast during fermentation.

Known as 71B, this yeast is a laboratory product made in Holland from a tomato base, which imparts wines with banana and candy aromas. It produces a beverage, but with no authenticity and little charm. Brun, on the other hand, wants to make a pure Gamay wine. 

Brun's view is that Beaujolais drinks best at a lower degree of alcohol and that there is no need to systematically add sugar to the must (chaptalize) to reach alcohol levels of 12 to 13 degrees. His Beaujolais is made to be pleasurable - light, fruity and delicious - not an artificially inflated wine that shines at tasting competitions.

Only a minimal amount of S02 is used at bottling to keep the wine fresh and "headache-free". Fermentation naturally produces a lot of CO2, which acts as protection against oxidation during aging; leaving some in the wine at bottling time also helps to keep it fresh. Filtration is also minimal so that the wine keeps its original fruit and aromas. Brun’s wines are not ‘blockbusters’ in the sense of ‘big.’ The emphasis is not on weight, but on fruit: Beaujolais as it once was and as it should be.

Brun’s Nouveaus were rated as the top Nouveau of the vintage by France’s Gault Millaumagazine several years in a row. Robert Parker has rated Brun as a four-star producer (the only other Beaujolais producers with four stars are in the Crus) and has written about his wines:

“Proprietor Brun is a believer in using only the vineyard’s wild yeast, rather than the synthetic yeasts used by most other producers. His beautiful wines are favorites among purists.”

The Perrachon family settled in Juliénas in 1601 and established the estate of Laurent Perrachon & Fils in 1877. Today, the 7th generation of winemakers carries on its ancestor’s tradition with the same aim: to express the essence of the terroir. The vineyard is managed with a sustainable farming philosophy. By keeping grass between the vines and using mechanical rather than chemical methods to care for the soil, Perrachon makes good use of vines that are an average of 45 to 60 years old. Yields are kept low at an average of 45hl/ha for the standard Crus and much lower for the wines produced on delimited Climats. The winemaking process is similar to a classic Burgundian style, with a large portion being destemmed (the exception being the Beaujolais). Perrachon uses indigenous yeasts and a long maceration time to extract the broadest palette of flavors, complexity and structure. The wines are aged in the Estate's vaulted cellars that were built in 1701. 

Jean-Marc Burgaud, a budding young star  located in the village of Morgon, he is hard working and meticulous and has great ambitions for his wines that his vineyards easily justify. His 19 hectares (Beaujolais villages 5 hectares; Régnié 1 hectare; Morgon 13 hectares) are planted with Gamay noir on granitic/schistose hillsides. The Beaujolais-Village comes from Chateau du Thulon in the village of Lantignie. The village is renowned for its hillsides and its granite soil. The 12th century chateau belonged to Jean-Marc Burgaud’s aunt, Mme Jambon. The vinification, elevage and bottling all take place in the chateau cellars. The vines are, on average, 40 years old. Typical Beaujolais vinification, with carbonic maceration of the whole berries for 5 to 6 days. Raised in tank for 4 to 5 months. Within Mogon there are several lieu dits and the Cote du Py is considered as the best vineyard in the appellation. This large sloping hillside, where the vines are in excess of 50 years old, has soil of schists, degraded rock, iron oxide and manganese which impart a distinct minerality to the wine. This is a well-structured wine, redolent of black fruits (mulberries and cherries). Carbonic maceration of the whole berries lasts 12 to 15 days, aand the wine is raised in barrel as well as tank. 

The Clos de la Roilette, in the village of Fleurie, covers nine hectares of one of the best slopes in the Beaujolais Crus. The clos has an eastern exposure, borders the Moulin-à-Vent appellation, and produces wines that are beautiful when young and have the capacity to age 5-10 years, depending on the vintage. In the 20's, when the Fleurie appellation was first created, the former landowner was infuriated with losing the Moulin-à-Vent appellation under which the clos had previously been classified. He created a label, using a photograph of his racehorse Roilette, and used the name Clos de la Roilette, without mentioning Fleurie. The owner vowed not to sell a drop of his wine on the French market and the production went to Switzerland, Germany and England. By the mid-1960s, the owner's heirs had lost interest in the clos and a large portion of the land had gone wild and untended. In 1967, Fernand Coudert bought this poorly maintained estate, and replanted the vineyards. His son Alain joined him in 1984, and has been the winemaker since. The Couderts say their particular terroir (mainly clay and manganese), and the age of their vines (25 to 33 years-old) account for the richness of their wine. It has a deep blackcurrant color with a hint of purple, a restrained nose of crème de cassis, a rich, full mouth with aromas of cassis, black cherries, and a nutty character, and finishes with zesty acidity. This is a wine that ages gracefully and takes on the aromatic character of a Pinot Noir.

Notes on 4 Beaujolais Cru Appellations

Juliénas is an appellation covering wines produced from vineyards in the north of the Beaujolais region of eastern France. The village of Juliénas is named for the Roman leader Julius Caesar, and vineyards have been established here for more than 2000 years. The red, Gamay-based wines of Julienas tend to be heavier than those of the neighboring appellation of Saint-Amour, with rustic characters of spice, flowers and red fruit.

Côte de Brouilly covers the slopes of the dormant Mont Brouilly volcano in central Beaujolais. The area is surrounded completely by the vineyards of the much larger Brouilly appellation, but gives rise to a noticeably different style of wine from the Gamay grape variety – Côte de Brouilly wines are concentrated and elegant, with floral characters, and are less earthy than their Brouilly counterparts. Côte de Brouilly covers one of the smallest areas of any of the Beaujolais crus, and is also one of the southernmost, being just north of the Beaujolais plains where grapes for the famed Beaujolais Nouveauwines are grown.

Fleurie, known as the Queen of Beaujolais and the most popular Cru, is located in the northern part of Beaujolais, the appellation covers the vineyards in the commune of Fleurie, located on the western slopes of the Beaujolais hills. Fleurie wines are some of the most highly regarded in Beaujolais – made from the Gamay grape variety, they are light, silky and supple, with characteristic floral and berry aromas. Fleurie is in the center of the Beaujolais crus, sitting just south of Moulin-a-Vent and Chenas and to the north of its equally famous stablemate of Morgon. The area's vineyards sit on south- and southeast-facing slopes overlooking the Saone River valley, where they are exposed to warm morning sunshine during the growing season. Fleurie's vineyards enjoy a temperate continental climate, and are shielded from cold northwesterly weather systems by the hills to the west of Beaujolais. Instead, the region's high sunshine hours are cooled by gentle influences from the Mediterranean Sea in the south. This ensures that ripening is slow and steady, leading to a balance of acidity and flavor in the grapes. 

While Fleurie's widespread recognition is often attributed to its evocative name, the region is actually named after a Roman general, Floricum, rather than for any floral traits in the wine. Vines were planted here in the early Middle Ages by Benedictine monks, and vineyards were expanded in the 15th Century by the Lyonnais bourgeoisie. Fleurie wines were widely distributed in France and England in the 19th Century, and the commune was granted its AOC in the 1930s, along with seven other areas in northern Beaujolais.

Morgon is one of the ten Beaujolais crus located on the slopes of the Beaujolais hills on the western side of the Saone River. The wines made here from the Gamay grape variety tend to be denser than those made in much of the rest of Beaujolais, often with cherry and dark fruit characters and a fleshy, juicy texture - lush, jammy,  robust -that is not common in Beaujolais wines. Morgon wines age so distinctively and consistently that the region's name is often used as a verb to describe this process: 'il morgonne'.  

The most distinctive feature of Morgon's terroirs is the weathered, decomposing soil made up of granite and schist, with some volcanic influences. These soils, ranging in texture from sandy loams to heavier clays, are rich in iron and contribute an earthy depth to the wines that is not characteristically found in any of the other Beaujolais Cru.

As in much of the Beaujolais region, the vineyards are protected from cold north-westerly winds by the hills immediately west of Beaujolais. Instead, a warm, dry foehn wind develops on the eastern slopes of these hills, drying the vineyards after rain and helping to prevent fungal vine diseases such as mildew. The wide, shallow valley of the Saone River offers no topographical barriers to sunlight, and as such the vines benefit from plentiful sunshine during the growing season, helping the development of phenols and sugars in the grapes. This is moderated by some cooling influences from the Mediterranean Sea, some way to the south, allowing for the retention of acidity in the wines.

While the Gamay grape variety is undoubtedly the star of Morgon wines, some white grape varieties are permitted in the final blend, namely Chardonnay, Aligote and Melon de Bourgogne. Although there are no officially defined quantities for these varieties, the Morgon blend is controlled by limiting the proportion of these vines that are permitted in the vineyard to no more than 15%.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Road Trips to the Best Pennsylvania Wineries

Faithful readers of this wine blog may remember my effusive praise last year of what I consider to be the best winery in Pennsylvania -Va La Vineyards in Avondale in southeastern Chester County near the Delaware border.  Although my opinion has not changed on that particular producer, there are several others within a day's drive of Philadelphia that are doing a fine job of producing quality wines and deserve a look-see if you're in the mood for a road trip, especially on a fair, sunny day when you have a hankering to get out of Dodge.

By the way, October happens to be Pennsylvania Wine Month. See the link below for further information: 


On a recent weekend, I made an excursion out to Lewisburg, PA, home of Bucknell University as well as the Federal Penitentiary, but my primary destination was Fero Vineyards and Winery, which is just a few miles north of town off highway 15.  http://www.ferovineyards.com/ 


I had first learned about Fero a few years ago at the Wine & Jazz Festival at Longwood Gardens where I sampled an ancient Old World grape originating in Georgia and which is rapidly becoming the varietal du jour in various US wine regions, including the Finger Lakes. I was immediately struck by this unusually dark and exotic red wine, not least because of its production in, of all places, a somewhat obscure and off-the-beaten track winery in Central Pennsylvania.  Obviously, they knew something I didn't (but have now sampled and studied at length), and in fact, they were the first to plant the Saperavi grape in the Eastern US.  (Apparently, some upstart in Oregon beat them to it by just a matter of months.)


Alas!  The winery is currently out of stock of the Saperavi because of limited supply and high demand, but I made sure I got the waiting list for the 2017 vintage when it is released sometime in the not too distant future.  In the meantime, there is plenty more to sample and enjoy at this small, but charming winery.  On the wine list in the photo above, you will see their current selection of dry whites and reds, along with a rosé and a few bubblies.  I especially liked the Gruner Veltliner, an Austrian white varietal which is rapidly gaining traction in Pennsylvania as almost a flagship grape, and the Lemberger, also an Austrian varietal, alternatively known as Blaufrankisch in the Old World.  The other dry varietals they produce, Riesling, Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir, are definitely worth a taste and reflect the overall fine quality coming out of this small, family-run winery.  They also produce semi-sweet and sweet wines, which include fruit wines and flavorings as well as native grape varietals such as Niagara, for the less discriminating palate.  During the warm spring and summer months, there is live music on the weekends, another incentive for the long drive out to Central PA.

The next day, I wound my way back across route 80 and down 309 past Tamaqua toward Allentown and made a turn-off towards the tiny hamlet of Andreas seeking out another winery I had heard very positive reports about.  In fact, Galen Glen Winery (pronounced 'Gay-len')   http://www.galenglen.com/main.html is perched high above the rolling hills on the western edges of the Lehigh Valley, a mile or two north of Andreas. It boasts an absolutely beautiful setting enhanced by virtual 360 degree views of the sloping vineyards, cornfields and forests surrounding the tasting rooms and wine shop.  




Not only does the tasting room take advantage of the natural beauty of the surroundings with windows facing the vineyards below, but there is also an outside patio behind and below the visitor center where you may enjoy a glass or two while enjoying the view. (And they also offer a very nice cheese and charcuterie plate as you see below.)


But enough about the setting, let's talk about the wine!

Galen Glen, like Fero, produces a very fine Gruner Veltliner. In fact, I would rate this Austrian varietal as the best Pennsylvania has to offer, even a notch above Fero's.  Beautifully well-balanced, and crisp with notes of white grapefruit and passion fruit, Galen's gruner is a delightful, refreshing white wine that perks up the taste buds and whets the appetite for shellfish or light seafood. It is perhaps just a tad more fruit-driven than most of its minerally Austrian counterparts, but in a blind tasting it might prove difficult to distinguish between the Old World and New World - certainly the quality of the Galen is on the order of the Austrian wine.

Following in the Austrian tradition, Galen also produces a Zweigelt Rosé. This may be the first rosé of the red Austrian varietal I've sampled as typically they are vinified into straight red wine.  As I've noted in a previous blog post, Zweigelt is an hybrid of Saint-Laurent and Blaufrankisch, two of the most widely grown grapes in Austria.

As for other dry white wines, Galen also produces good quality Riesling and Gewurztraminer, similar in style to its compatriots to the north in the Finger Lakes.

The reds include Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Chambourcin, this last one being a very popular varietal in Pennsylvania, and Galen's version I found to be definitely one of the better ones I've tasted from the Keystone State.  Years ago, when I first sampled a Pennsylvania Chambourcin, I found it to be rather thin, with little depth or complexity, and rather astringent to the point of being almost unpleasant. The Galen chambourcin was nicely balanced, round, with intense cherry and blackberry flavors accompanied by delicate herbal notes and fine tannins.  This French-American hybrid, which is actually not found much anymore in France, has come a long way in the last few decades in Pennsylvania.

I should add that the price points for these wines are relatively easy on the wallet, all of them coming in under $20. 

In addition to the tasting experience, Galen offers a walking tour of the vineyards - usually once a week during the warm months, and for all you wine geeks, it's definitely worth the time and extra charge. In fact, for the extra $5 you get a glass of wine to sip as you meander through the vineyards, and you even get to take a look at the Rube-Goldberg type bottling machine that was directly imported from France.


On our tour, we also got to witness the unloading of the grapes for destemming and crushing assisted by one of the winery's owners.  And Russell, the dog, faithfully keeps away any undesirable moochers!


All in all, a visit to Galen Glen is the perfect antidote to the hustle and bustle of the big city, and offers a pleasant and peaceful respite from the busy-ness of the daily work routine.  For wine lovers, there nothing like enjoying the fruit of the vine in its natural setting.


And just as a reminder, for a jaunt in the other direction from Philadelphia, 15-20 minutes past Longwood Gardens, be sure to visit the winery that got my vote for Pennsylania's best, Va La Vineyards, and which I reported on last year in this blog.  http://www.valavineyards.com/  


For the true connoisseur of terroir-driven wines, Va La represents the epitome of quality and complexity in this corner of the state.




Saturday, September 8, 2018

5th Annual Back Porch Wine Bash - France vs. Croatia - a World Cup Rematch

A few weekends ago friends gathered chez moi for my 5th Annual Back Porch Wine Bash.  The theme this year was a rematch of the World Cup final back in July - France vs. Croatia. Needless to say, France overwhelmed Croatia just in terms of volume and number of bottles, but tiny Croatia put up a good fight with a few intriguing and powerful whites and reds.  These require extra sleuthing to find in the wine stores, but are worth the effort!

The weather gods granted us a break this year as it turned out to be one of the most pleasant weekends of the whole summer - lots of sunshine, comfortable temps and low humidity.

Here's wishing everyone a beautiful fall season and look out for  my class at the Mt Airy Learning Tree in October and November featuring Cru Beaujolais wines!




Xavier Vignon Ventoux  (Southern Rhone)


Zlatan Otok

Quality dry wine made from native grape varieties, among which dominate bogdanuša, PRC, Mekuja and Cetinka from areas of Milna, Zavala and Hvar. Aged in stainless steel tanks until bottling. Golden yellow color, lemon and green apple aroma with a pronounced acidity. Fresh and easy to drink.

Alcohol 12.5%


Christian Salmon Sancerre  (Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire Valley, France)


Zaca Mesa Syra Santa Ynez Valley (Santa Barbara County, Calif - not French but very tasty!)


L'Aumérade, Cotes de Provence Rosé






The true identity of the Croatian imposter revealed!








Tuesday, August 21, 2018

A Rosé Wine Tasting and Dinner

In the latest wine tasting dinner of friends "down the shore" (that's "Joisy" to you!), rosés from the Old and New Worlds were featured.  Unless you've been hiding under a rock somewhere for the last several years, or if you are a total teetotaler, you will have noticed the explosion of rosé wines each spring/summer in your local wine shop.  Indeed, we are living in the new era of rosé - and it's not your mother's or grandmother's sweet pink juice pink anymore (we're looking at you, Lancer's and Mateus!).  Just take a listen to this recent news item from NPRs Marketplace Report

Personally, I'm all in favor of the New Rosé and have already led wine tasting classes on rosés  and threw a wine party featuring rosés  - see my previous blog posts:

And so it was natural that  we would chose rosé as the theme for our summer tasting down the shore.

All wines are in the $15 -$16 range, except for the Tablas Creek which was about $22 (and well worth it) and are available in the PA stores (except for the Fulkerson which was a direct import from the Finger Lakes).  

Top wines of this tasting in my estimation and pretty much by consensus of the group were the Gris de Gris, the Tablas and the Gaia. Grab'em while you can - they may not last long on the shelves!

Victuals included flatbreads, roasted salmon, pasta salad, grilled asparagus, roasted corn on the cob and antipasto

An array of hues!

Domaine de Fontsainte Corbieres “Gris de Gris” Rosé 2017


Appellation : Corbieres AOC  (Languedoc-Roussillon), France

Varietals : 50% Grenache Gris, 20% Grenache Noir, 20% Carignan, 5% Cinsault, 5% Mourvèdre

Production/Tasting Notes : Hand harvested; Gris de Gris is blend by saignée; after a 24-hour débourbage, or settling of the must, alcoholic fermentation takes place at cool temperatures for 35 days;  Malolactic fermentation is blocked; wine rests for one month before bottling to preserve freshness and aromatic intensity; notes of raspberry, cherry and freshly picked strawberries - followed by exotic aromas such as pineapple and mango; on the palate, dense, rich fruit, vibrant acidity.

Food pairing: aperitif with toast and crushed olives, or with wok-fried vegetables and garlic mayonnaise, grilled fish, lamb tajine, finely roasted guinea-fowl with rosemary...

Alchohol: 12.5%

Notes on the Wine Producer and the Vineyards
The first vineyards at Domaine de Fontsainte, in the Corbières appellation, were planted by the Romans. Artifacts found in these vineyards, such as an old coin dating from the time of Marcus Agrippa in 25 A.D., are a testament to its antiquity. The original domaine was built around a thermal spring, which was later named for the local, twelfth-century patron saint, Saint Siméon; hence Fontsainte—the saint’s fount. Yves Laboucarié’s family has been making wine here since the seventeenth century, and we were lucky to have met him so early on in his career. For over thirty years, KLWM has been proudly importing his wine, and now we work with his son, Bruno. Like his father, one of the first vignerons working with whole cluster fermentation in the region, he believes strongly in the family’s legacy of innovation. He has re-equipped the cellars, replanted new vines, and even added new cuvées. Here at KLWM, we make no secret of why we have been working with them since 1978. In their lovely part of France, year in and year out, they are the best. The fairness of their pricing allows us to offer incredible values to our clientele.
The Fontsainte vineyards surround the hamlet of Boutenac in the area known as “The Golden Crescent.” This swath of land is one of the sunniest in the appellation of Corbières, enjoying south-southeast exposure, and protection from the cold, northeast winds by a large 500-hectare forest. The cooler sea breezes from the Mediterranean help this sun-soaked terroir achieve balance as well. Like many of the vignerons that we work with, Bruno believes that “great wines are made in the vineyard” and less in the cellars. He farms the land sustainably and keeps treatments to a minimum. Silica, clay, and limestone dominate the subsoil of Fontsainte’s vineyards. Many of their vines are older, especially the parcel known as La Demoiselle, which recently celebrated its hundredth year. Look for the highly affordable and supremely delicious Gris de Gris, a saignée rosé made from Grenache Gris—among the finest rosés on the planet.

Tablas Creek Patelin de Tablas Rosé 2017


Region: Paso Robles, Central Coast, California

Varietals: 64% Grenache, 29% Mourvedre, 5% Syrah, 2% Counoise

Tasting Notes: Vibrant light peach color. On the nose are spicy aromatics of nectarine, grapefruit pith, yellow raspberry, and crushed rock. The mouth is bright with flavors of raspberry and watermelon, with mouthwatering acidity giving focus to a long finish with flavors of lemon drop, sea spray, and a little rose petal florality.  (90 pts., Wine Spectator)

Food Pairings:     Salmon, Sushi, Anchovies, Sausage, Fried chicken, Mediterranean tapas

Alcohol: 13%

Terra d'Ortolo Rose Ile de Beauté Corsica 2017


Region: Corsica

Varietals: 40% Niellucciu, 30% Sciaccarellu, 15% Grenache and 15% Merlot

Tasting Notes: Aromas of strawberry and white peach plume from the glass. There is a fleshy and structured mouthfeel with vibrant acidity up front that is quickly overtaken by watermelon and strawberry fruit flavors, balanced with an underlying minerality. The finish is long and beautiful

Food Pairings: leafy-green salads, assorted shrimp dishes or grilled swordfish. 

Alcohol: 12%

Île de Beauté
The Terra d'Ortolo estate covers almost 40 acres between the sea and the mountains in the heart of Corsica, the "Isle of Beauty." Daniel Barcelo, the owner of the estate, is dedicated to a viticultural path that is completely harmonious with the stunning natural beauty of Corsica. His vineyards consist of many different native island and continental varietals, and his wines all display an elegant expression of fruit along with the unique minerality of this amazing terroir.

Waterbrook Sangiovese Rosé 2017

Region: Columbia Valley, Washington

Varietal: 100% Sangiovese

Tasting Notes: 2 months in stainless steel; cold soaked 24-60 hours; fragrant aromas of strawberry, cranberry and a hint of honeydew melon. Bright clean acid leads to a lingering finish of peach with a hint of graphite. (86 points, Wine Enthusiast)

Alcohol: 13%

Fulkerson Estate Syrah Rosé 2017


Region: Finger Lakes, New York State

Varietal: 100% Syrah

Tasting Notes: Stainless steel fermentation; first vintage for this Syrah Rose; exhibits aromas of
berries and red fruit with a pleasing, balanced finish.

Alcohol: 12%

Fulkeson Vineyard Notes
Our 2.88 acres of Syrah planted in 2014, is one of the largest plantings in New York of this early ripening, vigorous variety from the northern Rhône. The site we chose to cultivate this variety is on the furthest down-slope of our original 1805 farm. The site is well drained with deep Howard series soils. This site is steep and protected from strong winds, which also allows for good air drainage, protecting the site from both high and low temperatures throughout the year. Being a mid-ripening variety, we are able to select optimal flavor and sugar levels a little better than with some of our more traditional red varieties which ripen at the end of the season.

Winemaker Notes
Fulkerson Winery is becoming more and more interested in unique varietals such as Syrah. This is typically grown in France and Australia, but does very well in the Finger Lakes. Our 2014 planting yielded 18 tons in it's second vintage and we are proud to introduce this bright, exciting Cuvée.

Gaia 14 18 H Rosé 2017


Region: Nemea, Greece

Varietal: Agiorgitiko

Production/Tasting Notes: After harvest, the grapes are crushed and placed into stainless steel vats where they undergo a chilled maceration (50°F) for 14-18 hours in order to extract its suberb rosy hue; fresh and fruity character, dominated by the flavors of cherry and gooseberry, which are typical of Agiorgitiko grapes that grow on the Nemea highlands.  Medium-bodied and well balanced, it has a cool and refreshing finish.

Food Pairing: Chinese and Southeast Asian cuisine

Alcohol: 13%

Notes on Wine Producer
One of the pioneers of the modern Greek wine revolution, Gai’a Estate (pronounced Yay-ya)
was established in 1994 by Leon Karatsalos and winemaker Yiannis Paraskevopoulos. Their
mission was to capture the best that Greece’s indigenous grapes have to offer by merging
traditional viticultural and production methods with innovative techniques. The estate is
named after “Mother Earth,” in honor of the unique terroir that gives birth to these world-
class wines.
The grapes for the 14-18h Rosé come from vineyards located on the slopes of the
mountainous Koutsi and Asprokampos regions of Nemea, at an altitude of 2,625ft. The
climate is considerably cooler at this higher elevation, resulting in grapes with higher acidity
and berry fruit aromas, ideal for the production of rosé.