Sunday, August 29, 2010

Terredora di Paolo Falanghina 2009

Ahhhh, summer...the wonderful time of year where on the good days the temperature goes up and the pace of life slows down. These care free but warm days are no time for your favorite big reds or even an oaky Chardonnay. They call for something cooler, crisper, and more refreshing. I typically find myself drinking a lot of Sauvignon Blanc in the summer with some Albarino, a Vouvray, or a dry rose mixed in every so often. Not being a fan of Pinot Grigio, Italy was never on my radar for white wine. This year, however, that has all changed for me with the discovery of a wine and a varietal that are new to me. Falanghina is grape that is indigenous to Southern Italy. Once relegated to being a blending grape for many years, some producers have discovered in recent years that they can make some outstanding wines from 100% Falanghina. Thanks to some of my favorite retailers, I was introduced to the Terredora Di Paolo Falanghina this spring. If you happen to be in New York City, you can also find this by the glass at Wine:30 ( ), one of my favorite wine bars in the city.

Terredora di Paolo Falanghina 2009 comes from the Irpinia IGT which sits within the region of Campania in Southern Italy. In your glass the wine is pale straw in color. The bouquet brings aromas of citrus and pineapple. In your mouth you get a wine with a light-medium body with wonderful flavors of pineapple and lemon with hints of pear and light stone fruit. What I like best about this wine, though, is the crisp acidity that works together with the fruit to make this wine so enjoyable and refreshing on a hot summer day.

From a pairing standpoint, the Terredora di Paolo Falanghina 2009 would be perfect with some grilled mahi-mahi or any light fish or shellfish. At a price point of around $14, its also a pretty nice value.


Saturday, August 28, 2010

Catena Alta Malbec 2005

When I think Malbec, I normally think "good to very good wine and great value." There are so many pleasant Argentinian Malbecs out there in the $15 and under category, that it's almost too easy to find good values. Lets face it fellow wine geeks - part of the thrill of a great value is the hunt itself - right? So a few years ago I asked my friend Ryan Seward, currently the Wine Education Director at City Wine Merchant ( ), to set up a South American tasting for me and some of my friends so we could try to discover some more unique Argentinian and South American wines. Among other things we discovered a crazy Chilean Pinot and a really interesting Argentinian Syrah, but the star of the show was clearly the Catena Alta Malbec 2005.

In your glass you will see a very intense inky purple color and you will breathe in aromas of dark berries, plum, and leather. This is a wine that I could swirl and smell for a good half an hour without even taking a sip. In your mouth you get dark berry and black cherry fruit with a mix of mild spice and a hint of chocolate. The wine has a beautiful, rich mouthfeel without being overwhelming, and the well integrated tannins are just perfect.

I have to confess that this wine has single handedly changed my perception of what Malbec can be. I always thought of it as a really nice everyday wine that really had no place at the table for special occasions, but this Catena Alta Malbec is one of my all time favorite reds. It brings the great fruit that Malbecs can have, but underneath all that fruit there is additional depth and complexity that take this to a higher level. Here is a Malbec that would pair beautifully with grilled red meats. For a true Argentinian food and wine experience, put some flank steak on the grill and make a nice authentic chimichurri to spoon over it. You won't be disappointed.

You can find this wine for just under $50, and it would hold its own against many Cabs that retail for twice the price.


Saturday, July 24, 2010

Gere Attila Cabernet Sauvignnon 2007 Villany

When you think Cabernet Sauvignon, chances are that the places that come to mind are Bordeaux and California. If you're a little more adventurous maybe Chile or even Tuscany. When you think about Hungary and wine, you probably either don't think about anything at all or you think about wines from the Tokaj region. Surprisingly there is quite a variety of wines from this small country in Eastern Europe, and many of them are quite good. The problem over the years has been that many of the good wines weren't making their way out of Hungary for the rest of the world to taste and enjoy. Finally that is starting to change a little bit and some of the interesting and outstanding wines of Hungary are making their way into the United State and other markets.

Today's subject is a Cabernet Sauvignon from the Gere Attila winery in the Villany region of Southern Hungary. This region, which I had the pleasure of visiting a few years ago, is Hungary's version of Bordeaux. Similar in latitude and climate, it produces some excellent wines from a few of the classic Bordeaux varietals - Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc. This offering is no exception. In your glass the wine is intense ruby red in color with just a hint of rust at the edges. The nose brings blackberry and cassis and smells like a classic old world Cabernet. In your mouth you get some more of the blackberry and cassis, but very dark black cherry flavor dominates. The tannins were present but mild after pouring through a Vinturi aerator and swirling in glass for 5 minutes. The dark fruit flavors lingered pleasantly for quite awhile on my palate.

Overall this is a very nice Cabernet from Southern Hungary. For a price tag in the low to mid $20's it also represents a very nice value. This wine will pair nicely with grilled beef or game and would also pair very well with some authentic Hungarian dishes. If you are interested in learning more about or buying Hungarian wines, I highly recommend checking out the Blue Danube Wine Company at


Friday, June 11, 2010

Evening Land Pinot Noir 2008

I find it very hard to discover great values in Pinot Noir. Good ones can be found easily enough, but typically if a Pinot Noir is really good it's also really expensive. Every so often I do find an exception to the great value rule with Pinot, and today that exception is Evening Land Pinot Noir 2008.

This very nice Pinot is made with grapes sourced from the Willamette Valley in Oregon by consulting winemaking star Dominique Lafon. In your glass the wine is classic, medium red in color. The nose brings cherry, sour cherry, and strawberry fruit with a subtle earthy element. In your mouth you get much of the same fruit with the addition of some red plum. There is also a wonderful element of spice that makes Oregon seem a lot closer to Burgundy than it is to California. The acidity and subtle minerality brings structure and balance, and the wine has a very nice finish.

Overall, this is some really nice stuff that tastes a whole lot like a very nice Burgundy but without the barnyard. At a price in the low $20's, it is an outstanding value that would pair nicely with grilled salmon or a seared duck breast.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Perrin & Fils Vinsobres Les Cornuds 2007

This 2007 Cotes Du Rhone is yet another in a string of absolutely delicious wines I’ve had from the outstanding 2007 vintage in the Southern Rhone; however, this one is quite a bit different from the others that I have had in that Grenache is not the predominant varietal in the blend. This Cotes du Rhone from the Vinsobres region, which is further north than most of the better known Cotes du Rhone Village areas, consists of 65% Syrah and 35% Grenache.

In your glass the Perrin & Fils Vinsobres Les Cornuds 2007 is deep purple in color. The nose has no single defining element, but it has a nice blend of black and red fruit with some pepper and spice. In your mouth cherry and raspberry fruit combine beautifully, and there is also a nice but subtle element of pepper. Earthy tannins and great acidity provide balance and structure. The finish is not overwhelming, but it is pleasant and sneaky long.

Overall, this is a very interesting and very good wine. It walks a fine line between some of the cooler climate, more delicate wines of the Northern Rhone and some of the more powerful wines of the south. At a price point in the high teens, it is also an excellent value. This pairs nicely with grilled beef or lamb, and it’s a great red wine to serve with a variety of cheeses. It also tastes great just paired with a glass!


Thursday, April 8, 2010

Dancing Coyote Wines

Ok, so I’m going to come out and say this right at the beginning. As a general concept, I hate critter labels. I find that most of these labels are made by industrial volume producers who are much better at manufacturing and marketing than they are at winemaking. So it was with quite a bit of reluctance on my part that I agreed to accept some samples for tasting from a California winery called Dancing Coyote.

Dancing Coyote’s story is that the name comes from coyotes that come into their vineyards at night and chew on their irrigation lines. The more interesting part of their story to me is their interest in unusual varietals. This California winery bottles a number of varietals that include Albarino, Chenin Blanc, Gewurztraminer, Gruner Veltliner, Pinot Grigio, Verdelho, and Petite Sirah. Not your usual collection of grapes from the Golden State. Their current production is about 10,000 cases, and they are focused on the value end of the price scale with most of their wines retailing for $10 to $12.

Now I’m a big believer in non-traditional varietals and trying as many as you can, but my concern here is that Dancing Coyote has a lot of different grapes all being grown in the same basic area in the Clarksburg AVA. I also question if the climate in the Clarksburg AVA is cool enough for some of the white varieties that Dancing Coyotes has chosen.

The first Dancing Coyote wine that I tasted was their Albarino. Albarino is a varietal that is native to the Galician coast of Spain, with its rather cool climate. At its best, Albarino makes fresh, crisp, delicious wines with wonderful aromatic qualities. The Dancing Coyote Albarino 2009 has some pineapple and peach on the nose, but it just doesn’t deliver the intense bouquet that I expect from Albarino. My concern here is that the climate in Clarksburg is just too hot for this grape which is native to the Spanish coast where the average high temperature in July is in the high 60’s compared to the mid 70’s for Clarksburg. On the palate this wine simply falls a little short. I love the idea of growing Albarino in new places, but I’m pretty convinced that the Clarksburg AVA is not the place to do it.

The second wine I tried from Dancing Coyote was their Petite Sirah 2008. The wine was inky purple in color with a rather nice bouquet of black raspberry jam, which had me anticipating a pleasant surprise. Unfortunately, this wine was just completely off on the palate. The fruit was raisiny, and the finish had a rather unpleasant oxidized taste to it. This wine was pretty much what I expect from a critter label.

The last wine from Dancing Coyote was their 2009 Gewurztraminer. In your glass, the wine is very pale in color. The nose brings pleasant aromas of honeysuckle with a hint of citrus. On the palate you got more of the same with a good dose of spice. This Gewurztraminer had just the right level of sweetness for me, which is to say it didn’t overwhelm you with residual sugar. All of this was balanced by crisp acidity. In trying these wines, it was the third one that brought some charm. The Dancing Coyote Gewurztraminer is a decent value, and it would pair nicely with spicy Thai food or sushi.


Saturday, April 3, 2010

Girard Cabernet Sauvignon Pritchard Hill 2006

There are certain wines that just take me to my happy place. Just about anything from Girard Winery has that wonderful effect on my state of mind. Girard is a little discovery from one of my fortunate visits to Napa when travelling for my real job. Last summer, during a visit to my friends at Elizabeth Spencer Winery, I asked for suggestions for other wineries to visit, and I was told to look for the Girard tasting room in Yountville. From the moment I walked in, I knew I had found something special. The décor is classy yet relaxed. The tasting room staff is knowledgeable, but they also know how to make wine tasting relaxed and fun. Even the music they played in the tasting room was to my liking. The most important thing, though, is that the wines were simply outstanding.

A couple nights ago, sitting here in the Buffalo, NY area, I decided that I needed a little taste of Yountville to conjure up my happy place. Lucky for me I had a bottle of Girard’s Pritchard Hill Cabernet Sauvignon 2006 laying down in my cellar. I opened it up and let it breathe in decanter for a couple hours, and then I took the wonderful journey to my happy place.

In your glass the Girard Pritchard Hill Cab is deep garnet red in color. The nose brings aromas of blackberry, cassis, and black cherry with subtle notes of licorice and vanilla. On the palate the flavor is stunning. Although this wine is no simple fruit forward bomb, it does bring an initial blackberry explosion to get things started in your mouth. Smooth tannins and nice acidity for a Napa Cab bring some structure and balance to the deep, dark, and delicious fruit flavors, and the finish does not disappoint Overall this is an absolutely delicious offering from winemaker Marco DiGiulio, who I think is making some of the best wines in Napa today. In my humble opinion, he knows how to walk that fine line between intense fruit flavor without crossing over into too much weight on the palate. Retail on this is $75 and if you join their wine club it’s only $60 which is a bargain for wine of this quality.

As far as food goes, this is a pretty food friendly Napa Cab for the right pairings. I had this a couple nights ago with a grilled filet mignon with a crimini mushroom reduction. It would also pair very well with a nice blue cheese.


Saturday, March 27, 2010

Elizabeth Spencer Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2006

Elizabeth Spencer is one of those small Napa wineries that make really nice wine that not many people know about. Established in 1998, their distribution is limited and most if not all of their retail sales are through their website and their charming little tasting room in Rutherford. They make many different wines ranging from Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay for whites to Grenache, Pinot Noir, Petite Sirah, Zinfandel and Merlot for the reds; however, my belief is that their best wines are their Cabernets. They have a few different Reserve Cabernets as well as their basic Napa Valley Cabernet, and all of them are quite good.

Today I’m taking a close look at their basic Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2006. It has a relatively small production of 2000 cases, but this is a lot compared to some of their reserves that have as little as 100 cases made.

In your glass, the wine has a beautiful purple red color. The nose brings classic Napa Cab aromas of blackberry and cassis with some black cherry in the mix as well. There is also just a little bit of a minty, herbal element to the bouquet. In your mouth, you’ll find a fruit profile that is similar to the nose along with a surprising and very pleasant hint of earthiness. The mouthfeel is really nice and not at all overwhelming like some Napa Cabs can be, and the tannins are very much present but beautifully integrated. This Cabernet has some really nice structure to it, and although it’s drinking nicely now, it should only get better over the next couple of years.

As far as food goes, this will pair perfectly with grilled steak or game just like any good Cabernet, but it also is food friendly enough to work with braised lamb shanks or a beef or lamb stew. At a price of $40 this is a nice value. If you join their wine club and get it for $32, it’s a great deal! As an added bonus, I think it’s a little bit better than any of their reserve Cabs which go for $60 to $80 a bottle.


Thursday, March 18, 2010

Chapelles St. Arnoux Vacqueras Vielles Vignes 2007

It's getting so easy that it's almost getting silly. I used to work so hard to search out values from the Southern Rhone, constantly asking my favorite retailers what they have and searching things out online. With the 2007 vintage, though, the search has almost become too easy. There are so many good values and frankly so many great values that I am pinching myself.

The Chapelle St. Arnoux Vacqueyras 2007 is one of those many great values that I have been fortunate to find from the Southern Rhone. If you like Vacqueyras as much as I do, you know that most of these wines sell in the $20 to $40 range and are often quite good values in that price range. This Chapelle St. Arnoux is a steal at $13. After tasting it and checking and re-checking what I paid for it, I was certain that some local or federal law enforcement officials would be visiting me to discuss the grand larceny that I had committed. This wine drinks like it should be three times the price.

The Chappelle St. Arnoux Vacqueyras is made from 70% Grenache, 25% Syrah, and 5% Mourvedre and exhibits a red-purple color in your glass. The bouquet is wonderful and quite interesting in that the fruit component changed pretty significantly as the wine opened up. When first poured after 15 minutes in decanter, it smelled like sweet cherry pie in a glass, but as the wine opened up, the sweet cherries were joined by an equal component of blackberry. You also picked up some classic Rhone garrigue and the subtlest hint of leather. On the palate the wine brings sweet cherry and blackberry fruit with a hint of red currant. The fruit is complemented by some herbs and spice. It has very nice acidity and mild tannins that are very well integrated. Overall, this is an amazing wine for the price.

From a pairing standpoint, this is one of those wines that can go a lot of ways. I had it with a grilled pork tenderloin and felt that is worked pretty well. It would also pair nicely with a variety of cheeses if you are looking for one red wine to serve with a wide selection of cheese.

If you're interested in seeing other wines form Vacqueyras please see this link

If you're interested in seeing other wines from the Southern Rhone please see this link


Sunday, March 7, 2010

Domaine La Monardiere Les 2 Monardes Vacqueyras 2007

I just don't think I can say enough about the 2007 vintage in the Southern Rhone. I have tried quite a few 2007 Rhones now, and I have yet to find a wine that doesn't deliver delicious taste and outstanding value. This is true of wines ranging from the most basic Cotes-du-Rhone right up to the outstanding 2007 Chateauneuf-du-Papes. There are also outstanding value to be found in some of the up and coming villages in the Southern Rhone like Gigondas and Vacqueyras.

Today's subject is one of many great values I have found from Vacqueyras. The Domaine La Monardiere Les 2 Monardes Vacqueyras 2007 is medium red in your glass. The nose brings a wonderful mix of berry fruit with an element of licorice and some very subtle forest floor. In your mouth the wine is a little lighter than most wines from Vacqueyras. It has a very refined and elegant medium-bodied mouthfeel. The blackberry, cherry, and raspberry fruit is accompanied by a little bit of spice, and very nice acidity and mild tannins provide outstanding balance. Overall, this is a beautifully structured, very food friendly Southern Rhone that drinks like a much more expensive wine, and the $21 price tag makes it an excellent value.

As far as pairings go, this is a wonderful wine for those foods that could get overwhelmed by heavier reds. I love it with pork tenderloin or seared duck breast. It would also be great to serve with a diverse mix of cheeses.


Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Chateau La Bienfaisance Saint-Emilion Grand Cru 2005

Bordeaux is arguably the most famous and highly regarded wine region in the world. This is not to say, however, that I'm personally making a case for the wines of Bordeaux as the best in the world. In fact for the last year, I had to work very hard to find wines from this famed region that I liked that didn't cost hundreds or thousands of dollars for a bottle. I'm sure I would love Petrus or Cheval Blanc, but there just aren't quite enough zeros at the end of my paycheck to drink those.

So about six months ago, I made it a priority to find some Bordeaux wines that are affordable and good. I figured that if so many people felt that this region is so great, then I must be able to find some good values in it. At first it wasn't easy. I started by attending a Bordeaux tasting at a local wine retailer, and the results weren't so good. Most of the wines I tasted were major disappointments. There was one exception, though, and I just revisited this wine last weekend with a wonderful dinner of lamb tenderloin with a blackberry demi-glace and a wild mushroom risotto. That exception is a wonderful blend of 80% Merlot and 20% Cabernet Franc from Saint-Emilion.

The Chateau La Bienfaisance Saint-Emilion Grand Cru 2005 is an intense purple red color in your glass. More modern in style, the nose brings black cherry, cassis, and a hint of chocolate. On the palate you get loads of cherry fruit with just a little bit of the cassis. Smooth, velvety tannins and some very nice acidity make this a beautifully structured wine that is right up my alley. I love wines that deliver delicious fruit flavor but also have structure and balance, and this fine offering from the Right Bank delivers on all accounts. This is a very good Bordeaux that is a steal in the $40 range. This wine is drinking very well now and should continue to improve with cellaring.

The wine paired beautifully with my lamb tenderloin with blackberry demi-glace, and would work very well with many French cheeses.

This is one of the first Bordeaux wines that I found that I love, but its definitely not the last. I'm going to have a lot of fun trying to find some more!


Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Charles Krug Cabernet Sauvignon Yountville - Napa Valley 2006

Just about everybody who knows even a little bit about wine is familiar with the Mondavi name. Robert Mondavi played a huge part in putting California on the world's wine map and built quite an empire before selling the business. What many people don't know, though, is that Robert got his start in his family's winery business before leaving rather suddenly, and his brother Peter and his family still own that winery.

Robert's father Cesare got his start in the winemaking business in Lodi, before eventually buying the Charles Krug Winery in Napa Valley. Eventually, Cesare's two sons, Robert and Peter, took over the business with Peter heading up winemaking operations and Robert in charge of sales and marketing. Business boomed and everyone got along on the surface until Cesare passed away. After this, the infighting built and built until the now infamous fist fight between Peter and Robert, which resulted in Robert's ouster from the family business and a lengthy lawsuit between the Robert and Peter Mondavi families.

Today, the Robert Mondavi Winery is owned by Constellation Brands and Robert's sons Tim and Michael are involved in their own winery projects. Peter's family still owns the Charles Krug Winery, and in recent years they have been making some really nice wines. This 2006 Yountville Cab is no exception.

Deep purple in color and almost opaque in your glass, it brings aromas of blackberry and cassis with a little cedar and subtle notes of vanilla. In your mouth the wine has a wonderful feel. It is full bodied without being too weighty. The blackberry and cassis fruit shine along with hints of cherry. Very smooth tannins provide some nice balance. The finish is not particularly long, but it is truly mouthwatering and quite enjoyable.

Overall this wine provides a very nice value in the mid to high $20's. In fact it provides a lot more bang for your buck than the better known Robert Mondavi Napa Valley Cabernet. With 50,000 cases made, it should be pretty easy to find.

From a pairing standpoint it would go very nicely with a nice steak or grilled game, or it would go quite well with aged or blue cheeses.


Sunday, February 7, 2010

To Find Great Wine You Need to Find A Great Wine Retailer

So what’s the best way to find wines that you like to buy? Well, I’d love to sit here and tell you that it’s as simple as reading A Couple of Wines on a regular basis. Certainly magazines, websites and blogs like this one can be great sources of reviews and helpful information, but we all have our limitations. One key is finding sources who understand your tastes and likes or a source that you somehow connect with or just “get.” Speaking for myself, I know that there are some very well known reviewers who I understand perfectly and will give me a good insight into whether I will like a wine or not, and there are others who are completely useless to me. The other big challenge once you find some sources for suggestions is actually finding the wine. A wine that is readily available in New York City may be impossible to find in Cleveland or Chicago. The very nature of the wine business dictates that it will be very regional and even local in many cases. So what is a wine consumer to do?

Well the answer to the question is pretty simple and just takes a little bit of shopping and exploring. The number one thing that any wine consumer can do to find wines that they love, great values, and reliable sources of information is to become friendly with a great retailer. The trick is finding the great ones, and I’m here to talk about how to form one of the most important relationships in your quest for what you want in wine, whether its bargains, hidden gems, or collectibles.

The first and most important thing you want to find in a retailer is a knowledgeable, consultative salesperson who will take the time to ask you questions and learn your likes and dislikes. This is much more important than the size of the retailer. In my own experience, there is a very large retailer, who I will leave unnamed, in my market who doesn’t even know I exist. I can walk their floor for an hour without finding a knowledgeable salesperson who is willing to help. Little do they know that I have thousands of dollars of wine in my cellar and am looking to double or even triple my collection in size.

The key in finding a great as opposed to good salesperson is to find someone who is more interested in learning about your tastes as opposed to telling you about what they like. Telling you what they like is fine, but if they’re doing that and not learning about your tastes, they won’t ever be a great source for you.

I have been dealing with an outstanding local retailer, Georgetown Square Wine & Liquor in the Buffalo, NY suburbs, for years, and the reason I like them so much is that Ryan Seward, their wine manager, took the time to get to know me and my taste. Even though he is much more a French Burgundy and Pinot Noir guy, and I’m more of a Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache/Garnacha fan, that doesn’t really matter. He took the time to get to know me and whenever I would come in, he would let me know what new wines they had that I might be interested in trying. Now, he not only knows my tastes, but he’s surrounded himself with some very knowledgeable employees who are also very good.

Another local retailer, City Wine Merchant, in downtown Buffalo is a very different retailer than Georgetown. They are wine only and much smaller; however, their owner, Eric Genau, takes the same approach in forming relationships with his customers. He doesn’t push his tastes on the customer. Instead he focuses on learning about you and forming a more personal relationship with his customers.

What other factors should you look for? I would argue that for an everyday retailer you want to find someone who focuses on value. This is not to say that they have cheap or low priced wines. A focus on value means that they look for wines to sell that taste more expensive than they are. This could be something in the $15 and under category that tastes like a $20 wine or it could be something like the 2006 Gagliole Rosso I just picked up for about $50 but drinks like it’s at least $80. This isn’t about crazy sales or clearance items. It’s about a retailer that sources values that provide good bang for your wine buck on a regular basis.

The final factor that really sets apart the great retailers from the pack is tastings and education. These can be provided to the consumer in a number of different formats, and the great retailers usually utilize many of these. Tastings can be small informal tastings of just a couple of wines at a table on the sales floor, or it can be in depth tastings in a more formal setting. These can also come with or without education. Many retailers offer introductory type classes with tastings as well as more advanced and focused sessions on a specific region or varietal. This is a great way to learn what you like today and to discover new varietals and regions. Especially if you’re dealing with slightly more expensive wines, this is a great way to try a lot of different wines without breaking the bank.

If you already found your own great retailer, then that’s great for you. If not, ask around and try to find that retailer who will take the time to get to know you, offer good values, and provide tastings and education. Although I’d like you to keep reading my blog, you will discover more great wine that you can actually buy by forming a relationship with a great retailer than through any other source of information.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Chateau Phelan Segur Saint-Estephe 2004

Can it really be? Have I been writing this blog for seven months now without reviewing a single wine from Bordeaux? Bordeaux is not my favorite region, but I have no awful grudge against the region. I’m not pretending it doesn’t exist or intentionally ignoring what is arguably the most famous wine region in the world. The truth is that as a lover of Cabernet Sauvignon , I resolved a few months ago to try to find some Bordeaux wines that I love. I’ve been mixing a few into the rotation, but up until tonight, I’ve been drinking these on social occasions when I didn’t have the opportunity to take good notes. So tonight, here it is. My first official Bordeaux review. I’m not entirely sure that I’m head over heels in love with the Chateau Phelan Segur Saint-Estephe 2004, but I’m certain that I’d like to take her out on a couple more dates.

Chateau Phelan Segur in Saint-Estephe has been around for a long time, but in the 1970’s and 1980’s it saw some rough times with poor quality wines. Ownership changed hands in 1985 and the Gardinier family who took it over immediately worked to improve quality. They took the drastic step of recalling and/or refusing to sell the 1983, 1984, and 1985 vintages, and since then they have continuously improved the quality of the wine, which brings us to the 2004 vintage.

The Chateau Phelan Segur Saint-Estephe 2004 is a deep garnet red in your glass. The nose brings cassis, cherry, & plum with notes of herbs and leather. On the palate you get cassis, blackberry, plum, and just a hint of cherry. The wine has very nice acidity and mild, stony tannins that are in a really good place now in 2010. There is no one element of this wine that will knock your socks off, but it also doesn’t have any glaring weaknesses. In fact it has some very impressive structure, and it is a very well balanced, food friendly wine.

Overall, this wine is a nice value at a price point that ranges from the high $20’s to the mid $30’s. It paired really well with the porterhouse steak I grilled tonight, and it would also go very nicely with a beef or lamb stew.


Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Bodegas Olivares Altos de la Hoya Jumilla 2008

With all due respect to Argentina, for my money, the best values in the wine world these days are coming out of Spain. Although I love great Priorat, Ribera del Duero, and Rioja, the true values in Spain are coming out of what I refer to as "the up and comers." This includes regions like Montsant, Calatayud, Bierzo, Yecla and even Toro, but probably the value leader in my eyes is Jumilla. This region, which is primarily making red wine from the Monastrell (Mourvedre in the rest of the world) varietal, is making a number of outstanding wines that retail in my $15 and under price category. Today's subject is an outstanding single vineyard wine from Bodegas Olivares that can be had for as little as $9. You've got to love a wine that only has one digit before the decimal point and still tastes great!

The Bodegas Olivares Altos de la Hoya Jumilla 2008 is grown in the Hoya de Santa Ana vineyard at an altitude of 2700', which is one of the highest in Jumilla. The high altitude keeps things a little cooler and gives the wine more time on the vine to develop without getting overripe, which is always a concern in Jumilla. In your glass, the wine is deep purple in color. The bouquet shows sweet cherry, black raspberry, and blueberry fruit with notes of licorice and spice. On the palate you get a mix of red and black berry fruit and nice acidity. There is also a wonderful minerality to this medium-full bodied wine that lingers on the finish. Although there is plenty of fruit, there are also many other dimensions that give this quite a bit of structure.

Overall, this Jumilla presents a fantastic value with much more complexity than you would expect from a wine that can be found for under $10 a bottle. At this price, it can just be sipped casually on its own, but this can also be enjoyed with grilled meats and would be a great accompaniment to authentic, smoky barbecue.

To see info on some other great values from Spain, see this link


Thursday, January 28, 2010

Seghesio Aldo e Riccardo Barbera d'Alba DOC 2007

Italy has such an amazing variety of wine grapes. One of the true workhorses that most serious drinkers and Italian wine lovers know, but that many casual drinkers are not necessarily familiar with is Barbera. Barbera is grown in many areas of Italy, and for many years it was used to make high volume, second-rate wine. In recent years, though, the quality of wine made from this grape has improved dramatically. The best Barbera is grown in Piedmont in the Barbera d’Asti and Barbera d’Alba regions – thank you Italy for actually putting the name of the grape on the name of the region in this case to keep it simple for us! Barbera wines are generally medium bodied with a variety of red and black fruit flavors and very nice acidity that makes it rather food friendly. As a rule it is a wine that can be enjoyed in its youth but doesn’t necessarily have to be drunk young.

Seghesio Barbera D’Alba 2007 is a deep purple red in your glass. The bouquet brings cherry, blackberry, and blueberry fruit with some subtle leather. On the palate, the blackberry fades into the background, and the black cherry and blueberry fruit dominate along with a strong earthy component on the finish. The tannins are mild and nice acidity adds some balance to this wine. Overall, this is a nice wine that doesn’t knock my socks off, but it provides some complexity and a decent value at a price point just under $15. I should also note that I drank my first glass with minimal decanting, and it was definitely a little tight and harsh at first. It was much better after about 45 minutes.

This is a little darker and more full bodied than most Barbera, and it would pair pretty well with pasta with a classic Bolognese sauce.

If you're interested in seeing some other great Italian wines, see this link


Monday, January 25, 2010

Chicken Breats with Roasted Red Peppers and Portobello Mushrooms

For today’s post I’ve got a recipe that brings together some of my favorite flavors. The sweetness and deep flavor of roasted red peppers, the delicious earthiness of Portobello mushrooms, and the sharp, nutty flavor of Asiago cheese. Put them together with a chicken breast as your canvas, and you’ve got a colorful and delicious meal that also happens to be pretty healthy. Here’s what you will need to serve 4:

4 chicken breasts pounded to about ½” thickness
12 oz of roasted red peppers chopped into about ½ to ¾” squares
12 oz Portobello mushrooms sliced into strips
2/3 cup white wine
2/3 cup chicken broth
Freshly Ground Pepper
Shredded Asiago Cheese
1 Tbs. Flour mixed with 2 Tbs cold water.
2 Tbs. Olive Oil

Heat olive oil in a large frying/sauté pan under medium-high heat. Salt and pepper the chicken breasts and brown in the oil – about 3 to 4 minutes a side. Set chicken breasts aside on a warmed plate, and add mushroom to the pan and sauté them for about 5 to 7 minutes. Add wine and chicken broth and cook until liquid is reduced by half, and then add flour and water mixture as needed to thicken the sauce just a little. Return the chicken breasts to the pan and add the roasted red peppers and cook on low for about 10 minutes or until chicken is done. Serve chicken smothered with mushrooms, peppers, and sauce and add a little shredded Asiago cheese on top. You should also have enough sauce. peppers, and mushroom to spoon some over your favorite pasta or plain couscous.

Although most would think of white wine for chicken breasts, this meal pairs much better with a nicely structured red wine, and I prefer to have it with Grenache based blends like the Camille Cayran Gemellus Rasteau 2006 which you can see here or the Mas Donis Barrica Old Vines Montsant 2005


Saturday, January 23, 2010

Castell de Falset Montsant 2004

All week I have been writing about wines from regions that are not necessarily the best known in their respective countries. We have looked at wines from Campania in Italy, Vacqueyras in France, and the Columbia Valley in Washington. Today we’ll be taking a look at a great little region from Spain. Spain is very famous in the wine world for Tempranillo based wines from Rioja, but it has a great variety of different regions and grapes (for more in depth info on the main Spanish red wine regions, see my post on Spanish wine here ). Spain’s second best known region is probably Priorat, which produces some intense, highly sought after collectible wines. Just to the south of Priorat, almost in a horseshoe shape around it on three sides, is the relatively newly formed region of Montsant, which just received its Denominacion de Origen or DO classification in 2001.

Montsant does not have the same elevations and steep hillsides as its neighbor to the north, but it does have the benefit of the same great climate with the combination of hot days and cool nights that can be so good for developing powerful but nicely structured wines. Most of the DO is planted with Garnacha (called Grenache in most of the world) and Carinena (called Carignan in most of the world), which even many experts mistakenly refer to as French grapes; however, the truth is that both of these varietals are native to Spain and have been grown there for wine for centuries. There are also plenty of wineries experimenting with international varieties like Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Syrah.

The Montsant we are looking at today is the Castell de Falset Montsant 2004. Consisting of 50% Carinena, 25% Garnacha, and 25% Cabernet Sauvignon aged for 12 months in French oak, the wine has an intense purple color in your glass. The nose brings wonderful aromas of black cherry and blackberries with a hint of cedar. In your mouth you get a very nice and very dark black fruit profile with a little bit of earthy minerality. There is enough acidity and very smooth tannins that provide some structure to balance out the fruit. This wine is drinking great now and probably just in the beginning of its prime. You could easily lay this down for a few more years.

Overall this Montsant is a very nice wine that has a great combination of fruit and structure. Retailing for about $27, it gives you much more bang for the buck than similarly priced wines from Priorat. In fact it drinks like a $50 bottle of Priorat.

This would pair well with grilled beef or lamb, or my preferred pairing would be with an appetizer or tapas course of authentic Spanish Serrano ham and Mahon cheese. Yum!

As a final note, if this all sounds great, but you want to start with a less expensive wine from Montsant, check out my review of the Mas Donis Montsant here


Thursday, January 21, 2010

Domaine de Montvac Arabesque Vacqueyras 2007

This week I’m focusing on regions that aren’t necessarily the best known in their respective countries. Today I’m looking at a wine from the Southern Rhone in France. This is a region that is somewhat well known, but not nearly as well known as the French regions of Bordeaux, Burgundy, or Champagne. Within the Southern Rhone, the best known and most expensive wines come from the village of Chateauneuf-du-Pape which is its own AOC or Appelations d’Origine Controlee; however, Chateauneuf-du-Pape is just one of many AOCs in the Southern Rhone. The Domaine de Montvac Arabesque 2007 that is our subject today is from the AOC of Vacqueyras, which is about 8 miles to the northeast of Chateauneuf-du-Pape geographically and about $15 to $50 to the south of it in price.

Vacqueyras is the newest of the Southern Rhone AOCs, having just achieved AOC status in 1990. Stylistically they are a little more subdued than wines from Chateauneuf-du-Pape. The quality of the wines, though, is quite good, and the values you can find here are excellent. The Domaine de Montvac Arabesque 2007 is one of the best values that I have found from Vacqueyras.

Made from 70% Grenache, 25% Syrah, and 5% Mourvedre, the wine is red-purple in color, and the nose brings intense cherry with notes of plum. More of the same cherry fruit pleases your palate with just a hint of spice. Very nice acidity and silky tannins make for a nicely structured wine and lead up to a mouthwatering finish with some decent length to it. This wine is every bit as good as some 2007 Chateauneuf-du-Papes that I have had in the $30 and $40 price range, and it retails for a little under $20 a bottle. It’s an outstanding value, and I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if it ended up on my 2010 list of top wines.

From a pairing standpoint, this would go perfectly with pot roast or a nice beef or lamb stew. It would also work well with grilled red meats.


Monday, January 18, 2010

Matthews Estate Columbia Valley Syrah 2007

This week I’m focusing on regions that aren’t necessarily the best known in their respective countries. In today’s case we will be taking a look at a wonderful wine from the United States that isn’t from Napa Valley or anywhere in California. Today’s topic is a fantastic Syrah from the Columbia Valley in Washington. The Columbia Valley AVA does not have quite the same well established reputation as Napa or Sonoma Valley in California, but they produce some outstanding wines that are really growing on me lately. It is also interesting to note that from a stylistic standpoint many of the wines from the Columbia Valley have a much more restrained, Old World feel to them than most wines from California. This Syrah from Matthew Estate has a wonderful combination of Old and New World attributes.

Matthew Estate is a small winery in Woodinville, WA that only produces about 3500 cases a year. Their winemaker, Aryn Morrell, spent five years in Napa Valley working for a number of wineries including Silver Oak before deciding to return to his native Washington. Based on what I have tasted of his work at Matthews Estate, I am very glad that he returned home to become the winemaker at Matthews Estate.

The Matthews Estate Columbia Valley Syrah has an intense purple color in your glass. The nose brings aromas of black raspberry, plum, and orange zest – yes, I said orange zest for a Syrah. It sounds crazy; however, it is not only true but also very pleasant. In additon to the fruit, you also get a little bit of earth and black pepper on the nose. On the palate, you get the same unique combination of fruit that you get on the bouquet. Cedar and an earthy minerality give an additional depth of flavor to this wine that I’m not accustomed to seeing from New World Syrah. Very nice acidity and earthy, stony tannins add structure and balance that should allow this to improve over the next five years.

Overall this is a wonderfully complex expression of the Syrah varietal from the Columbia Valley that combines New and Old World elements in a great way. Retailing for about $28, it gives you a lot of bang for the buck and compares favorably to many Northern Rhone Syrahs that retail for much more.

From a pairing standpoint, this would go very well with just about any grilled red meats or sharp cheese.


Saturday, January 16, 2010

Terredora Di Paolo Aglianico 2008 Campania IGT

One of the greatest revelations for me over the last few years as I have become more and more serious about learning all I that I can about wine, has been the realization that so many countries now have regions beyond their most famous ones that are producing fantastic wines. Everyone knows Napa Valley in the United States, but have you had a great wine from the Willamette Valley in Oregon, the Columbia Valley in Washington, or even the Finger Lakes Region in New York? Most casual wine drinkers have had a French Bordeaux or a Spanish Rioja, but have you tried any of the great values coming from the Languedoc in France or Jumilla in Spain? This list could go on and on in today’s global wine world. There are so many different corners of the world that are producing great wine, that it is hard for even the experts to keep track of them all these days.

Another country that has a fantastic diversity of great wines is Italy. Many still just think of Chianti or other Tuscan wines when they think of Italy, but there are great wines coming from Piedmont in the north all they way down to Calabria and Sicily in the south.

Today’s topic is a strong value that I found from the Terradora Di Paolo winery in Campania in Southern Italy. The region of Campania primarily grows the white Greco di Tufo grape and the red Aglianico varietal. Aglianico has been grown in Southern Italy for centuries. The grape was brought to Italy by Greek settlers centuries ago, and the name Aglianico itself is a rough translation of the term Hellenic. The varietal is a late ripening one that can’t be ripened effectively much further north than Campania, but when it can be ripened properly it can produce some very interesting results. The family running the Terredora Di Paolo winery has been growing Aglianico for about 35 years, and they started their own winery operation in 1994. They are the largest producer in Campania with vineyard holdings of about 600 acres.

The Terredora Di Paolo Aglianico 2008 has a nice ruby-purple color in your glass. The nose is dominated by black raspberry and blackberry fruit. On the palate, the wine is fruit forward with lots of dark berry flavor, but this is no simple fruit bomb. The wine has very intense but pleasant acidity for a fruit driven red, and the tannins provide additional balance. The finish has a little length to it and brings an added layer of spice and minerality. Overall this Aglianico has some very nice flavor and structure. There is quite a bit going on here for a bottle that retails for about $14 and delivers great value for the money.

This wine can be pretty versatile from a pairing standpoint, but I think it would go best with a tasty meat lasagna. It would also work well with beef prepared just about any way. If you need some recipe ideas, Terredora Di Paolo has a great English language website with some very interesting looking recipes. You can find it here So give this interesting and delicious red from Campania a try, and remember that there are literally hundreds of fantastic wine regions in the world. How many have you discovered yet?


Thursday, January 14, 2010

Produttori del Barbaresco D.O.C.G. 2005

Who needs Barolo when Barbaresco can be this good – especially when Barolo is typically twice the price? That’s the question I asked myself after trying the Produtorri del Barbaresco D.O.C.G. 2005. As many of you know, Barbaresco and Barolo are both made in the Piedmont region of northern Italy from the Nebbiolo grape. The Barbaresco region is just a few miles to the northeast of its more famous neighbor, but with rare exceptions in the higher price ranges, its wines are not given the same critical acclaim and respect as those from Barolo. The Produttorri del Barabaresco 2005 is a rare exception in a not so high price range - at least comparatively. So even though I may still need Barolo once in awhile, it's a lot easier on the wallet to get my Nebbiolo fix with this great value Barbaresco.

In addition to the fact that this wine is surprisingly great, I am even more surprised by the fact that it is made by a large cooperative of growers. Usually the grower’s cooperatives lose their focus on quality, but in the case of this group of 56 growers farming over 250 acres of Nebbiolo vineyards in and around the village of Barbaresco, they have remained intensely focused on producing quality wine. In addition to this wonderful Barbaresco, the co-op also makes a basic Nebbiolo as well as a number of single vineyard Barbarescos.

Made from 100% Nebbiolo grapes grown on hillsides at 650 to 1300 feet in elevations with clay soil filled streaked with limestone and calcium, this Barbaresco is aged for 20 months in oak casks. Mostly ruby red in color with just a little bit of brick to it, the wine is very pretty in your glass. The nose brings cherry fruit with notes of black raspberry along with a very nice earthy element and just a hint of pencil shavings. In your mouth you get a combination of black cherry and sour cherry fruit with a touch of spice. This medium bodied wine has very nice tannins that are just a bit chalky with nice acidity to balance things out. It’s drinking quite nicely now, but it has the structure to age at least another 5 years. It also has nice length to the finish.

I had this wine with Osso Bucco, and it was a heavenly pairing! It would also go very well with grilled game or a wild mushroom risotto. Retailing in the mid $20’s for a bottle, this Barbaresco is a steal. For similar quality Barolo made from the same Nebbiolo grape, you will pay twice as much. Lucky for us there were 17,000 cases made, so there should be plenty of this great wine for all!


Friday, January 8, 2010

Gere Attila Kopar Cuvee 2006

For most of my life as a Hungarian American, I was convinced that Hungarian wine (other than Tokaj dessert wine) was pretty awful. For many years my Hungarian born father served me Egri Bikaver (or translated Bulls Blood from the city of Eger) with the best intentions of giving me something good, and every time I tried to gently tell him that it really wasn’t so good. In fact, it was quite bad.

It was only after I visited Hungary that I learned that the country not only produces some good wines, it produces some great wines from many different regions. The problem is that most of the wines being exported to the US are from large cooperatives set up by the old communist government. These cooperatives were (and some still are) much more interested in quantity than quality. Having only experienced these export wines, I initially resisted visiting the city of Eger and its numerous wineries, but after my father’s insistence on taking me there, I was very pleasantly surprised by the many excellent wineries I found there. Moving on to other wine regions from there, the surprises kept coming.

The region that impressed me the most during my visit to Hungary was Villany in the south. After visiting a few wineries here, it was apparent that this region had some pretty special terroir. Wineries like the Jozsef Bock Winery and the Gere Attila Winery were making some great wines from native Hungarian grapes as well as classic Bordeaux varietals. I also quickly learned that it wasn’t my personal favorite Cabernet Sauvignon that was the star here. I discovered that the terroir in Villany is perfectly suited for Cabernet Franc as well as pretty darn good for Merlot. It became apparent that this region in Southern Hungary had something in common with the Right Bank in Bordeaux. My biggest frustration after packing as many bottles as I could of these wines into my suitcase was that the wines of Villany were just about impossible to find in the US.

Although most of these wines are still not distributed in the eastern half of the US to my knowledge, I did just discover that K&L Wine Merchants in San Francisco is now offering some Gere Attila wines for sale on their website. Upon finding this out, I promptly ordered a number of bottles of the Gere Attila Kopar Cuvee 2006 and had them on my doorstep 36 hours later.

I then promptly showed my impatience and uncorked a bottle, putting aside any fear of bottle shock that I had. After decanting for about 45 minutes, I poured the wine, closed my eyes, and found myself back in Hungary for a minute there. The 2006 Gere Attila Kopar Cuvee had a beatiful garnet red color in my glass. The bouquet was wonderful and complex. Floral elements, leather, and spice added to the black cherry fruit on the nose. On the palate, I got black cherry as well as currant and blackberry that was balanced by some subtle minerality, decent acidity, and very nice, smooth tannins. The finish was long with a touch of dark chocolate that lingered for quite a bit.

Overall this was a lovely Bordeaux Blend done in more of a Right Bank style composed of 52% Cabernet Franc, 46% Merlot, and 2% Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine had a wonderful dark fruit profile to it with very nice balance and structure. For a price tag of $51, it compared favorably to similarly priced wines Bordeaux wines. I enjoyed the wine with grilled venison steaks with a port wine-mushroom reduction, and the pairing worked beautifully. So if your looking something unique and different, but still delicious, give this Bordeaux style blend from the Villany region of Hungary a try. You won't be disappointed.


Wednesday, January 6, 2010

L'Oustal Blanc Naick 6

Every once in a while, I’m lucky enough to taste something that is just so different from other wines out there that it’s crazy. Sometimes it’s crazy in a bad way, and when I’m lucky it can be crazy in a good way. The L’Oustal Blanc Naick 6 (the 6 is for 2006 vintage) is a white table wine that is crazy in numerous and fantastic ways. L’Oustal Blanc is a very interesting winery run by Claude Fonquerle, who grew up in the vineyards of the Languedoc and spent a number of years working in Chateauneuf-du-Pape. He, along with his winemaker, Philippe Cambie, is making some outstanding wines with fruit mostly sourced from Minervois and Minervois La Liviniere in the Languedoc. Their self proclaimed style is to go for “purity and complexity” in their wines, and with this L’Oustal Blanc Naick 6, they have certainly hit their mark. The L’Oustal Blanc Naick 6 is sourced from grapes in Minervois and Minervois La Liviniere, but it is sold as Vins de Table or table wine, which is generally the lowest classification in the French wine law. The reason for this is that Fonquerle and Cambie have gone with a non-traditional grape blend that doesn’t meet the AOC requirements for varietal use. The blend in this case is 95% Grenache Gris and 5% Macabeo. Grenache Gris is an uncommon relative of the red Grenache grape, and Macabeo is a varietal I’ve only seen in Spanish Cava before this wine. I’m not sure what gave L’Oustal Blanc the idea for this blend, but I’m here to tell you it works wonderfully! In your glass you see an intense golden color, almost to the point of looking like a dessert wine. The nose brings a lot of peach with a touch of orange and pineapple, that doesn’t smell nearly as tropical and fruity as that sounds. You also get some subtle oak on the nose. The palate brings some more of the same fruit and nicely done oak from the bouquet, but it also has a wonderful stony minerality and great acidity. The body is full, but somehow this wine is full bodied and refreshing at the same time, without being the least bit flabby. It’s almost as if you’ve taken the body of a California Chardonnay and the minerality and acidity of a great White Burgundy and somehow blended them together perfectly. That’s a crazy description for a wine that doesn't even have any Chardonnay grapes in it, but this is a wine like no other that I’ve had! It’s very unique with a wild mix of flavors and characteristics that all somehow combine to produce a beautifully balanced wine with a solid finish. L’Oustal Blanc’s English language website is filled with horrible translations from French, but in their own “Frenglish” way, their tasting notes get this much right, “The taste is wide, elegant, finely wooded, and fresh.” Retailing in the mid $30’s, this is no everyday wine, but it delivers excellent value and unbelievable complexity for the price. I had this with a baked chicken breast with artichoke pesto, and it worked pretty well, but with the complexity of flavor this wine had, I have to say I enjoyed it best after dinner all on its own. Cheers!