December 12, 2008

Muga Rioja - 2004 - Unfiltered

Rioja / Spain
$22.00 to $26.00

After a long deserved hiatus I have come back to my reviews. What a nice wine to entice me back. With the economy in disarray, we are all looking for a nice bottle of wine that won't break the bank. Look no further. This is your salvation.

This wine is a blend of Tempranillo, Grenache, Mazuelo and Graciano grapes. Each year the percentage of each grape in this blend changes. In 2004 it was about 70% Tempranillo, 20% Grenache and the balance a mix of Mazuelo and Graciano.

This wine is consistently good from year to year. The winemaker has the latitude to change his blending percentage based upon harvest conditions and balance. For the past 5 years they have been perfect.

This wine pours a dark ruby color. The nose is a mix of grilled bread, blackberry, cedar...almost reminiscent of a good California Cabernet. The wine is dense and chewy. Blackberry, mineral, chocolate and a bit of pencil lead lead to a long...surprisingly long.....finish.

This wine has plenty of structure. The tannins are noticeable, but in balance. This one can last for 5-6 years in the cellar. I think this could use 30 to 45 minutes in a decanter to show at its best. This would be a winner with cheese or meats rich in fat. The pairing would enhance the tasting experience for both.

I found this wine on-line for about $22 a bottle. I have had a good experience with Wine Library in New Jersey; . They have reasonable shipping, and usually very competitive pricing. Don't hesitate to order from them. Wine Exchange in California is also a great vendor They currently have half bottles at $12.99.

If you can find this wine at this price it is a steal. Load up, and save some for a rainy day.

October 3, 2008

Masi Costasera Amarone 2004

Valpolicella / Italy
$44 to $60 / 92 pts

I have always loved Amarone. As a full fledged carnivore, there is no better wine to complement a juicy steak or leg of lamb. When the dollar was strong, I could buy a good Amarone for around $30 and often did. Well, the dollar is now in the gutter, and the great names in Amarone are approaching $100 or more a bottle. Amarone is now a rare treat.

I found the Masi on-line for just under $50. The wine got 95 points by a prominent wine publication and 90 points from Wine Advocate. With that level of positive feedback I felt it was worth spending the money to try it. I picked up a thick steak, fed the kids early and opened the bottle an hour before eating. Grill got lit, steaks got cooked and wine got poured. (Are you hungry yet?)

The Masi poured a very dark ruby color. The nose was dark fruit, cherry, raisin and prune. The wine was medium bodied with baked cherry, cacao, spice and nice balance. The finish was long and smooth with the tannins lingering on the finish. This was especially nice with the fatty rib eye. It offset the tannins and made this wine a pleasure to drink.

Overall, this is a delicious wine. It is big, rich, balanced and is best paired with food. When you are spending $50 on a bottle of wine, take the time to investigate what foods will complement your selection. The time you invest in educating yourself with exponentially improve you entire wine and food experience.

I drank this wine as part of a virtual tasting on-line. is a social net working site for wine lovers. Picture "FaceBook" for winos. We select a premium wine each month, taste it, and report our findings. It is a great way to interact with other wine lovers and learn an awful lot about wine.

Check out the site It is free to join, and a great tool to augment your wine education. When you go to the site, take some time to explore. There is something there for everyone, from neophyte to wine professionsl. If you become a member, tell them WineGent sent you!

September 30, 2008

Tenute Del Cabreo Il Borgo 2001

Super Tuscan / Italy
Cabernet - Sangiovese Blend

Those of you that follow my column know I am a sucker for a good blend. In the United States we have a history of blending classic varietals, from jug wine to $200 Meritage blends. The French have Bordeaux and the Aussies have their classic GSM and Shiraz/Viognier blend. In all cases the combination of individual varietals often creates something greater then each component alone.

In Italy, this classic combination is generically called "Super Tuscan". A blend of Sangiovese and Cabernet Sauvignon, this Italian gem has found a permanent place in my cellar. Each grape is allowed to show off its individual strengths in this wine. The Sangiovese brings red fruit and aromatics and the Cabernet brings structure and richness to the blend. Each grape unselfishly shows off the strengths of the other. Isn't that the way any good partnership succeeds?

Tenute del Cabreo in a partnerhip of Ambrogio and Giovanni Folonari. This father and son team was formerly active in the family firm of Ruffino. The family has been making notable wine since the 1700's, and Tunute del Cabreo is a venture launched in 2000. The focus of the Cabreo estate is Super Tuscan, but they have a portfolio of other Italian classics that have been well reviewed.

Everything about this wine is well done. Even the bottle is premium. It is heavy and feels expensive. You assume before even opening the wine that you are in for a treat. The wine is fragrant, with lots of red fruit, red and black current, oak spice and surprisingly a bit of bacon fat. The flavor of black cherry, raspberry, black pepper and even some coffee are layered nicely in this wine. Big and full bodied, the wine is rich and elegant. Although the oak is obvious it is well integrated and actually adds to the profile. The finish is long and satisfying. This will stand up nicely to a big roast or rich fatty steak. You can drink this now, but be sure to decant it a few hours for best showing. It has the structure to age 10 years or more in the cellar. I look forward to seeing how this beauty evolves.

This wine was around $50 when released. Although it is certainly worth the money, I seldom review wines in this price range and label it "value" wine. Value though, does not have to have a low price tag. It simply means you get more then you pay in satisfaction. This wine definitely qualifies. There are many $100 California Cabernet's and proprietary blends that would get a run for the money from this Italian classic.

What if I told you that you could find this wine at $24.99? At that price, it is a screaming value. It is currently available in Pennsylvania at many of their Premium wine stores. As with all great values, there is limited supply. If you live in Pennsylvania, or within driving distance to any of their state stores, you can order on line and pick up at any of their locations convenient to you. Although they will not ship out of state, make the drive. This wine is a steal and will knock your sock off. Better yet, buy a case and drink it over the next 10 years.

September 26, 2008

La Vieille Cure 2005

Bordeaux / Fronsac
$30 to $45 / 93 points Parker

It is not often that I will review a French Bordeaux. I usually stick to what I know, which are Californian, Australian and Spanish wines. There was so much press about the esteemed 2005 vintage in Bordeaux, I had to explore some of the smaller (Read as more affordable) Chateaus to see what all the fuss was about.

Robert Parker, wine critic and guru, wrote a great article on some of the smaller producers in Bordeaux. He called them the "Petite Chateau's", and discussed what wonderful values some of these wines represented. The point of his article is that the 2005 vintage was so strong, that the quality of all Bordeaux, even the smaller producers, was outstanding.

I culled through his report, and chose 4-5 of the higher rated wines, with a price tag under $30. La Vieille Cure was the top ranked wine on the list that still fit my budget. Parker Loved this one. Initially tasted in the barrel before release, he gave it 89 points out of 100. When re-tasted, he was thrilled with the way that this had matured. He re scored this a 93 out of 100.

This "upgrade" in score presents an interesting opportunity. Many wines are priced by the producers based upon these preliminary scores. Logically, the higher the score, the more the producer can expect to sell their wine in the marketplace. When a wine is scored below 90 points, there is a lot LESS interest in the wine from the general public. The wine is priced very reasonably to the importers and wholesalers, and the wine can then be sold at a much better price to the public.

When a wine is re-tasted and the scores rise, more often then not the prices have already been set. These wines can sometimes fall through the cracks and represent a fabulous bargain to the wine loving public. This particular wine is a great example of this scenario. It is a fabulous wine, reasonably priced, that continues to fly under the radar of serious collectors.

This wine poured out a beautiful deep inky red and coated the glass. It had aromas of sweet black fruit, black cherry, currants, and a bit of a sweet floral. It has wonderful mouth feel. Dense, Rich, concentrated, this wine tastes like a much more expensive bottle. The black fruit is superbly balanced and follows through to a long finish. It is a textbook example of what a fine Bordeaux should taste like.

This is so incredibly delicious now, that you may not have the patience to let this wine age. I still think it is evolving in the bottle and will probably continue to for another year or so. It has the structure and balance to age gracefully for 10 to 15 years. This wine presents a rare opportunity for those of us that cannot stomach paying $125 and more for a good Bordeaux. You can find this on-line, and it is worthwhile buying what you can find.

Don't wait.

September 21, 2008

The Sazarac Cocktail - A Taste of New Orleans

1 1/2 oz Old Overholt Rye Whisky
1 Tbs Herbsaint Liqueur
3-4 Dashs Peychaud's Bitters
1 Tsp Simple Syrup
1 Lemon peel (Generous twist)

Fill a generous rocks glass with ice to chill the glass. Dump the ice after the glass is well chilled. Add the Tablespoon of Herbsaint to the glass and swirl completely around the glass to coat the bottom and sides. Pour out the excess Herbsainte. In a cocktail shaker, add 1 teaspoon of simple syrup, 1 jigger of Old Overholt rye whiskey, and 3 generous dashes of Peychaud's bitters. you can substitute Angostura bitters as if it is all you can find, but Peychaud bitters is traditional.

Stir the Rye mixture with the ice until well chilled. Do not shake with the ice as it will dilute your cocktail. Strain into the Herbsaint-coated cocktail glass. Twist a lemon peel over the drink to release the essential oil in the peel. Drop the peel in the glass and serve.

This is an outstanding cocktail. You should approach it reverently. Take the time to appreciate the beautiful perfume that this blend of ingredients exudes. It smells delicious. Anise, spice and a complex floral component from the Herbsaint create an aroma that is heavenly.

At first sip you will feel the warm burn of the rye, but then layers and layers of flavor. There is the sweet flavor of honey and spice, a taste of the bitters balanced perfectly by the sweetness of the simple syrup. The lemon twist is the icing on the cake adding both a flavor and aroma component. It is amazing how much the Herbsaint adds to this cocktail. Although the glass is only coated with this elixir, the personality of this cocktail can be attributed to its presence.

It is important that this cocktail be served without ice. The personality of the drink changes as the cocktail warms. Savor it, sip it, but drink it slowly. You will be rewarded for your patience.

Every bartender I spoke with in New Orleans insisted that a "real" Sazarac will be made with Old Overholt Rye. Old Overholt is cheap, readily available and a staple at most New Orleans restaurants and bars. Herbsaint is also easy to find in New Orleans, but a bit more difficult in other parts of the country. I assure you it is worth the time to find some, or have some shipped for you home bar. I have included links at the bottom of this review if you would like to order all of the ingredients by mail. If you are in a pinch, you can substitute Pernod for the Herbsaint and cognac for the rye.

The best Sazarac I had in New Orleans was prepared at Herbsaint Restaurant on St Charles Avenue. There will be those that will disagree, but that it the beauty of reviewing. It provides a forum for discussion. Do you have a favorite bar or restaurant to enjoy this New Orleans staple? Share it with me in the comments. I am already starting a list of places to visit for my next trip to the Crescent City.

Here are some essential links relating to my experience:

"Herbsainte Restaurant".
"Old Overholt Rye Whisky".
"Peychaud's Bitters".
"Herbsainte Liqueur".

September 16, 2008

The BEST of New Orleans

1. Lucy's -Retired Surfer Bar
2. August - John Besh
3. Wine Institute of New Orleans
4. Luke - John Besh
5. Bon Ton Cafe
6. ACME Oyster
7. Roberts Fresh Markets
8. Herbsaint - Restaurant and Bar
9. Cafe du Monde
10. Cigar Factory - New Orleans
11. St. Charles Avenue Streetcar
12. Frenchman's Street Jazz Bars
13. Sazarac Cocktail
14. Aiden Gill for Men - Barbershop

Did I mention the people of New Orleans? I was so impressed with everyone I met there. The wealthy, the working class and the poor...the spirit of New Orleans was instilled in all of them. After being battered by Katrina in 2005 all of New Orleans has come together. The residents diligently work to preserve the culture and tradition that has been so richly celebrated in New Orleans for many generations.

I made it a point to speak to many of the residents during my 3 days there. ALL of them were incredibly generous with their time, and truly went out of their way to give me hints of where to go and what to see.

I am kicking myself for never making it to New Orleans before now. I packed two weeks of eating, drinking and touring into a 3 day trip. I will have to go back two or three more times to visit all of the places that remain on my list to experience. The running joke while in New Orleans was the question of which would give out first, my liver or my waistline. Look for all of the gory details in my future reviews coming later in the month. Laissez les bon temps rouler!

September 5, 2008

Pierre Boniface Apremont "Vin de Savoie"

Jacquère Grape / 2007
Savoy, France / $14 "Great Value"

It is difficult to believe that Summer is over. My kids started school again last week and it is impossible to believe how quickly time flies. I am going to miss the warm summer nights when the cool autumn nights take their place. There is nothing better then sitting on the back porch with Diana Krall on the stereo and a chilled bottle of white at the ready.

Usually my favorite wine to sip on these nights is a lighter white wine. Typically I will lean towards a Vinho Verde from Portugal. I was asked to taste this wine for review and was really impressed. So much so, I went out an bought a case for what is left of my annual porch time.

This wine is from Savoie (Pronounced Savoy) which is in the eastern part of France. It is made by Pierre Boniface using the Jacquere grape which is common in the Savoie region. This region is at higher elevation and the wines have an interesting Alpine character. This wine also has an effervescent quality, similar to a vinho verde.

The wine is light in color with a nose of flowers, mineral, melon and bit of spice. The wine has wonderful body. It is smooth and denser then you may expect for a white. There are clean flavors of melon and pear and at the end a tidbit of grapefruit peel on the long finish. .

This wine is a terrific value. It is easy drinking and surprisingly inexpensive for what the wine delivers. It has a different profile then your everyday Pinot Grigio or Chardonnay, and is worth your time to taste. Since I tasted this wine I have introduced it to many of my wine geek friends with great results. Be the first in your group to introduce this delicious and inexpensive varietal.

This wine is widely available. Check with your local wine shop to see if they can get it. There is also a premium version of this wine which has a metallic gold label. The premium bottle is called "Prestige". This wine has a bit more depth, and is certainly worthwhile. Try them both and let me know what you think!

August 13, 2008

Fireblock "Old Vines" Shiraz 2005

Clare Valley / Australia
Shiraz (Syrah) / $20.00

Some readers have e-mailed me asking why I have been on such an Australian wine kick lately. The answer is simple...I like Australian wine. Not only do I like the Australian style, but it is one of the few countries remaining with wines that I still consider a value.

I tasted over 120 wines with John Larchet, owner of "The Australian Premium Wine Collection" last month during a two day tasting. I got to spend the entire weekend with John and was thrilled to be able to taste his wines.

John emphasised his love for wines that are highly aromatic. He told me he felt that when a wine smells great, there is a high probability that it will taste great too. All of the wines he imports have one thing in common. They are balanced. There is not excessive acidity, tannin, alcohol or oak. He likes to say his wines are smooth and easy drinking, with "no arms or legs" sticking out to ruin the experience. I found his wines extraordinary. All of them seemed to suit my palate.

When tasting so many wines over a short period of time, you develop a shorthand while making notes. None of the shorthand is standardized. It becomes a private language that would make sense only to the taster. When reviewing my notes for the Fireblock "Old Vines" Shiraz, the first thing I read was in all capital letters.
"HOME RUN". In my shorthand, it is the highest complement I can pay a wine.

"HOME RUN" designates a wine that is easy to drink, has great structure, is flavorful and is considered a good value based upon price. The Fireblock "Old Vines" touched all bases.

The wine pours a dark purple. Immediately you can smell the aroma of black and red fruit, violet, smoke and spice. The wine is lush in the mouth with just enough weight to saturate the palate. The black fruit is ripe, a bit spicy with balanced tannins and long finish. This wine has French Rhone characteristics. The wine is beautifully balanced, elegant and easy drinking...

Fireblock is produced in the Clare Valley in South Australia. Bill and Noel Ireland are former wine retailers from Sydney and are the owners of the Fireblock Label. They are also partners in another wine venture in the Margaret River area called Flinders Bay. Their passion for wine is reflected in the product they produce.

The parcel of land that is now the Fireblock vineyard runs along an old rail line. Initially the land was uncultivated and used to prevent fire along the rail lines. The old steam trains used to spew soot and cinder that could set wildfires along the tracks if ground was planted. Happily, the demise of steam locomotives now allows for much more efficient, and tasty, use of the land.

This wine is still undiscovered in the United States. Although widely available through wholesalers, it is not stocked in many local wine stores. Make an effort to request this one. It is a wonderful wine, from a wonderful winemaker. Once the retailer knows there is interest in this wine they will start stocking it on a regular basis. Do yourself a favor....ask them to order you some. You won't be disappointed

August 4, 2008

Francois Chidaine "Les Argiles" 2005

French / Loire Valley
Chenin Blanc / $21 - $27

Chenin Blanc is originally from the Loire Valley in France. Over the years, its reputation has been sullied, especially in the United States, because of its use in many low quality generic box wines.

This grape is represented worldwide. In the United States it grows very well in California. Chile, Mexico, Brazil and Argentina also has a suitable climate for growing success. In South Africa where it is called "Steen", it thrives. It is often used in all of these countries to bottle as a varietal, and quite often blended to boost the acidity of Chardonnay. When Chenin Blanc is made well, it is a beautiful wine. From bone dry, to sweet dessert wine, this grape has incredible versatility.

Francois Chidaine has been growing grapes and making wine most of his life. He worked side by side with his father Yves and learned bu "hands on" experience. Learning from his father, Francois still manages the vineyard using tried and true methods. "Les Argiles" refers to the water retentive clay in the vineyard where these grapes are grown. Although the vineyards are certified organic, he does not make a big deal of this fact. The old fashioned methods of viticulture still ring true for him, and in his opinion make the best wine.

This 2005 vintage is luscious. It is straw colored and fragrant. Tropical pineapple, lilac, quince and grapefruit attack the nose. It is full of fruit, but beautifully balanced with acidity. It has good concentration of fruit, and has a wonderfully long finish.. This wine is almost dry. Chenin Blanc is one of the few white varietals that can be cellared. This wine should age extremely well.

This wine surprised me. I did not expect I would like it this much. I thought I had been exposed to some decent Chenin Blanc in my travels, but this one has been the nicest to date. I was able to buy this wine for $22. This is a lot of wine for the money and I guarantee that the quality belies the price.

This is imported by Louis Dressner out of New York. It may be a bit tough to find, but it is worth the effort. It is sold in the DC area at MacArthur's Beverage in Northwest, DC. You can also find it on-line.

If you have not had a chance lately to try this varietal, do so. I think you will be pleasantly surprised with what you find.

July 30, 2008

Great Wines, Great Vintages, Great Prices

The US economy has been tough for the past few years, and the US dollar has lost a lot of ground against the Euro and other currencies. This translates to higher costs for most commodities, including wine.

Some of my favorite wines are from the Rhone region of France. Chateneauf du Pape, Cornas, Gigondas are just some of the styles I love. While shopping for these wines late last year, my salesperson told me to look through the catalog for some of the older vintages that they still had in stock. I was amazed at how much cheaper I could buy some of these older vintages versus the new releases.

Instead of purchasing the new vintage of Chateauneuf du Pape, I opted to stock up on the better producers for the years 1998 through 2003. The retailer bought these wines years ago at a price significantly lower then the new vintage. Many retailers have held the pricing on these wines to encourage sales and to deplete their inventory. This offers an opportunity for wine lovers to grab a real bargain.

Why wouldn’t you consider buying past vintages of quality winemakers? The wine has had some time to develop in the bottle possibly improving in character. Most often the tannins soften providing a better drinking experience. Most importantly, you can save a few dollars allowing you to buy better wine for the same price.

In every city you can find a retailer that has past vintages stored in a temperature controlled warehouse. Many have on-line catalogs that allow you to peruse what wines and vintages are available. In Washington, DC, I buy from McArthur Beverage, Calvert Woodley and Schneiders . All of these stores have past vintages that are available to purchase.

If you are not in the DC area, check the larger stores in your specific area to see if they have a web presence. You can also inquire with the stores directly regarding availability of past vintages.

Good luck, and let me know what bargains you find! I will share them in a future article.

July 29, 2008

Hewitson's "Miss Harry" GSM 2006

Hewitson Wines, the Australian Premium Wine CollectionBarossa Valley / Australia
Shiraz-Granache-Mouvedre / $25

I am still reeling from the fabulous tasting I attended a few weekends ago on Gibson Island, outside of Baltimore. John Larchet, the owner of "The Australian Premium Wine Collection" led me through all of his wines over two eight hour days. I have to thank John, as it was one of the best wine experiences I have ever had.

One of the brands he represents in the United States is Hewitson. Based in the Barossa Valley of Australia, they produce 11 different wines. I tasted six of them, and loved them all. Dean Hewitson and his wife Lou founded Hewitson in 1998. In a short time they have made a name for themselves and their wines in the Barossa Valley.

"Miss Harry" is named in honor of their daughter Harriet. A classic blend of Granache, Shiraz and Mouvedre (GSM for short), this wine is an easy drinking gem. It pours a medium red/ruby color. There are flowers, berry and anise on the nose. This wine is very fragrant and medium bodied. When tasted, the black fruit, black cherry and plum are first to be noticed. The flavours transition to red fruit like strawberry and raspberry on the medium length finish. The tannins are soft and pure and well balanced. This is a beautifully crafted wine.

This is a versatile wine to drink on its own, or with food. For the money, it is a stunner. I went on-line and found the 2005 vintage of this wine for less then $20 a bottle. I immediately bought a case. Don't miss out on this one. I am rarely as confident of a wine as I am of this one. I defy you NOT to like it. You can check out the Hewitson website on line at

Check out the 2005 vintage of "Miss Harry" currently on sale for $17.98 a bottle at Wine Library in New Jersey. Shipping is approximately $25 per case. This puts your per bottle cost at around $20. Don't miss out. With the dollar in free fall, the 2006 vintage will be at least 20% more.

July 23, 2008

Chateau Montelena SOLD (Going once, going twice...)

Chateau Montelena was sold today to the French Estate Chateau Cos d'Estornel. The price of this deal is unclear, but according to the Wine Spectator, Montelena fielded offers between $120 and $150 million for this Napa winery and vineyards.

Some of my colleagues reacted with disgust as I shared the news with them. For the US to be selling out to the was so....unpatriotic!

I disagree. This is not the first major winegrower to sell out to a European wine house. Last year Stags Leap Winery was sold for $185 million and Duckhorn for $250 million or more. This is the start of a trend.

Montelena and Stags Leap wines emerged well ahead of all other US winemakers in 1976. There was a competitive wine tasting in Paris, now referred to as "the Judgement of Paris" where French judges named Chateau Montelena's 1973 Chardonnay as superior to all of the hallowed French Burgundy producers. Everyone was shocked, the French unpleasantly so and the Americans ecstatic. This put American wines on the map.

This is such a compelling story that Hollywood took notice. In January, during the Sundance Film Festival, "Bottle Shock" was premiered telling the Montelena story. There have been some notions that "Bottle Shock" will increase Montana's profile in the same way that the movie "Sideways" did for Pinot Noir. Although not yet released in theatres, you can bet that Cos d'Estornel will be more then willing to fund its distribution.

The more important economic issue here has nothing to do with our domestic wine gems being sold. It has to do with America's addiction to borrowing. We have long been the worst savers in the world. Our economic growth and innovation has allowed us to stay on top for a very long time. The global economy though, is starting to catch up.

The dollar, long the benchmark currency in the world, is being supplanted by the Euro. The dollar and all assets valued in dollars are down right cheap. Lets just say that America is "On Sale". Just last week we saw Anheuser -Busch, parent company of the iconic American "Budweiser" brand, sold to the Belgian brewer Ambev. These deals are only the first of many American brands that will be sold.

We have to change our culture in the United States from spend to save. Our complaints regarding the price of oil, gold and other commodities are falling on deaf ears outside of the US. The dollar is no longer the currency of choice.

For my part, I am going to continue to find wines that provide superior value and quality. The wines are out there and the winemakers are looking to be discovered. I am going to pass on the big name wines for which we pay for reputation more then substance. I would encourage all of you to do the same.

Congratulations to Jim and Bo Barrett, owners of Chateau Montelena and America's newest multi-millionaires!

July 18, 2008

Pikes Estate Riesling 2007

$20 - $28 / Dry Riesling
Clare Valley / Australia

I love Red Wine. In the summer though, it can be a bit too hot for a structured, heavy red. When cutting my teeth on wine in the early 1980's, I was introduced to German Rieslings. I LOVED them.

With varieties ranging from slightly sweet and refreshing to almost candy like, the German Rieslings were a great introduction to wine. Easy to drink, affordable, and always readily available. I learned a lot about German Riesling during this period of my life. As my tastes became more sophisticated, I transitioned to red wines, and sadly, never looked back.

Two wonderful friends and wine experts introduced me to this wine and re-introduced me to Riesling. Although not German, this Riesling radically changed my perception of this noble grape.

Pikes Estate is located in the Clare Valley of Australia. Although mostly known for its Shiraz, it is also famous for its "bone-dry" (Read - Not Sweet) Rieslings. I was flabbergasted when I tasted this wine. Instead of slightly sweet, it was remarkably refreshing and completely different then I expected. I would have never guessed in a blind tasting that this was a Riesling. Wow, this was a very exciting wine!

It poured a medium straw color, almost looks like a savignon blanc. The nose of Lime zest, grapefruit and mineral was fantastic. It is intensely flavored, very dry and refreshing. The limey flavors are prevalent up front, evolving to citrus and stone fruit and mineral. It has a long, dry finish. It is VERY refreshing yet intense.

This wine is beautiful. From the packaging to the price. Although many of you will balk at paying $28 retail for this wine, you need to look at the money spent as tuition. It will allow you to learn what dry Australian Riesling is all about, and dispel all previous stereotypes about this Noble grape.

It is imported by John Larchet, Proprietor of "The Australian Premium Collection" . You will hear more about John in future posts. The collection of wines he imports is fantastic. If you can't remember the name, remember this label affixed to all the wines he imports into the states. I tasted the entire collection and did not find any I was not impressed with.

This is a quality wine, and a steal for the price paid. Another little known fact....this wine will evolve and age in the bottle for up to 10 years. Why wait? This wine is delicious and refreshing now. Today it is 95 degrees with painful humidity....I can't wait to crack open an iced bottle when I get home this evening.
You can find this wine on-line and at most quality retailers. You can find this wine in the DC area at Total Wines and More in Virginia, Schneider's of Capitol Hill in DC and some of the better retailers in Maryland.

June 13, 2008

Casal Garcia Vinho Verde Branco 2007

Portugal / 2007
$5 - $8 / 88 points
I love the Spring and Early Summer. Days are longer, kids are out of school and most of us dust off the grill for 4 months of outdoor living. It is also the time of the year to transition to lighter wines. White, Rose and lighter bodied reds replace the heavy red wine we prefer in winter.

My favorite wine for hot weather is Vinho Verde. Literally translated as "Green Wine," this Portuguese beauty, for me, is a summer staple. Light, refreshing and inexpensive; this wine will change your perception of cheap white wine. It is easy drinking with low alcohol. This is a perfect warm weather wine.

This wine is wonderfully crisp and refreshing. It is light bodied with plenty of acid. It is easy to pair with most summer and grilled food. Reminiscent of a Sauvignon Blanc, it has a nose of lemon and lime, fresh grass and a touch of earth. The wine is slightly effervescent. This is the trademark of a vinho verde. It tickles your tongue.

It is a simple wine. Light colored with little body, this wine is easy to quaff. The citrus is refreshing on the front end. There are also some tropical fruit and mineral notes on the finish, with not a lot in the middle. This wine should be served cold.

This wine is generally made from loureiro, trajadura and albarino grapes which are indigenous in Portugal. If the map looks like a persons face in profile, the wine is produced by the eyes and forehead.(See Map) The blend varies from producer to producer, but always includes these varietals. This wine is called Vinho Verde, because the wine is meant to be enjoyed while young. It is important that you check the label to be sure you are buying the latest available. Currently, you want the 2007 wine.

The vintage on this wine is not found on the front label. You have to turn the bottle around and look for an important looking seal. Within the seal, it will tell you the vintage of the wine. The last time I reviewed a vinho verde, I got lots of e-mails from readers telling me how disappointed they were in the review. When we investigated further, we found they were drinking wine that was 2-3 years old. Believe me, you will love this wine. If you don't, I will give you odds that the bottle you have opened is old.

Have I told you the best news? Brace yourselves. This wine is less then $8 per bottle. You can find it as little as $5.99 if you look hard enough. At this price, you should be buying it by the case.

Vinho Verde is the Rodney Dangerfield of summer wine. Because of it's low price, it "Gets no respect." Don't wait as long as I did to try it. You will be glad you did!

June 6, 2008

Writer's Block Petite Syrah 2005

Winemakers in general are creative personalities. Although there is certainly science involved in fermenting the wine, the blending is all by taste. The most successful wines are not necessarily the best wines. Why you ask? The simple answer is that it takes more then the creative winemaker to ensure success of a label. It takes passion and business savvy. Behind every successful winemaker is a savvy business type.

Periodically, you find a winemaker that has been blessed with both of these necessary talents. Jed Steele is one of these winemakers.

Jed started his career at Ed Meades Vineyards in Mendocino County. He cut his teeth there, and moved when he was offered a position at Kendall Jackson. At that time Kendall Jackson was a newcomer. Jed was the Founding winemaker and VP of production for many years. When it was time, he went on his own to form Steele Wines. Located in Lake County, his operation has grown over the years and now bottles under at least three labels.

A friend recommended Writers Block Zinfandel to me this past fall. I was very impressed with the wine and wrote a positive review. The review made its way back to Jed Steele, who quickly called me to thank me.

RING!...... RING!...... Hello?...... Who is this?...... Jed who?......Oh, hello!...... Wow...someone is calling to THANK me for drinking their wine? (ALL OTHER WINEMAKERS TAKE NOTE!)

After the initial shock, I chatted with Jed for about 15 minutes. He told me about his wines, his philosophy and his passion. What I found so intriguing was his business sense. Like a good salesman, Jed picked up the phone to say thanks. Like a good consumer, I LOVED getting the call. Like a good salesman he told me how good his other wines were. Like a good consumer I told him I'd love to try them. Like a good salesman he sent me a box of his wines. Like a good consumer... You are starting to get the picture right?

I am generally a fan of Petite Sirah. For those who don't know, this is not Syrah, nor is it Pinot Noir. Petite Sirah is a completely different varietal. Sometimes called Durif, this grape was developed in France by crossing Syrah with the Peloursin grape in the late 1800's. The resulting hybrid was resistant to Powdery Mildew, a real problem for the Syrah varietal. It has adapted very well to the dry California climate and is now almost non-existent in France.

Steele blends his Petite Sirah with a bit of Zinfandel, Syrah and Merlot. It pours dark red, but not as dark and inky as many Petite Sirah I have tasted. It is lighter in color and viscosity. This lighter character may come from the higher elevation these particular Petite Syrah grapes are grown.

The nose was blueberry, black fruit, earth and a bit of violet (Unexpected). The wine has good mouth feel, but is not as fleshy or chewy as many Petite Sirah I have tasted. It has blue and black fruit up front with spice and pepper. There is a good bite from tannins that mellow as the wine opens. Overall, it is a good, balanced, easy drinking wine.

You can find Writers Block Petite Syrah at most good wine stores for under $20. I think we have to support winemakers that are thinking outside the box, and Jed Steele is one of these winemakers. Give it a try, and let me know what you think. Post a comment. I have it on good authority that Jed checks in to read my reviews from time to time!

May 26, 2008

Hmmm....What should I buy?

It seems without fail, once people realize I am a wine nut, they ask me what they should buy. While I enjoy helping people find good wine at a reasonable cost, it is almost impossible to predict what someone may like. This column is for all of you that ask for assistance in what to try and what to buy. If you can give me answers to the following three questions, I can make a solid recommendation on the wine or wines you should be trying.

What do you like? This seems like a simple question, but surprisingly, wine newbies have no clue to the answer. It is important to know what wines and varietals you like. When you come across a wine you find tasty, you need to write down or remember three things. What varietal, what winery/vineyard and what year are all found on the label. If I am supplied this information, I can usually make some recommendations that will probably suit your taste and budget. Without this information, I have no point of reference that would enable me to make a valid recommendation. As with most subjects, knowledge is power.

Learning about wine is a process. Your tastes will change over time as you learn more about wine, and more about your particular palate. New wine drinkers are usually attracted to fruit forward wines. California and Australian wines will be in abundance on your favorites list. Slowly but surely, you will start to appreciate some of the more complex nuances of a good wine. Depth, layers of flavor, length of finish are all key components of a good wine. You may eventually replace fruit forward wines with more complex, balanced wines. You also may not! To this day I occasionally crave a good Californian or Australian "Fruit Bomb".

Start a wine journal. It does not have to be complicated. List the wines you have tried with comments on how you liked the wine. It does not have to be in "wine speak". Whatever words you choose should be able to bring you back to the experience and give you a quick summary of how much you liked, or did not like, the wine. You will be amazed how helpful this will be for you in the future. Over time, you may even see your tastes start to change as you become more educated about what you like.

If you are drinking wine with someone that is more knowledgeable then you are, ask questions. To this day I still ask my wine friends what they smell on the nose, what they taste in the glass and what their impressions are of the wine overall. I am still learning to identify different aromas and flavours in the glass. The more experience a person has with wine, the more specific they can be in describing the wine using words. As you become more experienced with wine, you can use these verbal descriptors to determine if a wine may suit your taste.

Share your favorites with others. They will share their experiences with you. I cannot tell you how many great wines I have found through friends and reader recommendations. Wine is made to drink with friends. Old friends, new friends and wine friends. Did I leave anyone out? Enjoy!

May 21, 2008

Vina Cobos Malbec "El Felino" 2006

Malbec / 2006
$15-$20 / 91 Points

Periodically I go to a local wine store searching for the Holy Grail. You know, wine that tastes great and most importantly, does not exhaust your budget. I was in a DC wine store a few weeks back and picked up a half case of wines I never tried. I got a few Malbecs, a few Spanish blends, some primitivo and a few Petite Chateau Bordeaux. I tried the Malbec last night, and was blown away.

The best part of reviewing a wine is finding out more about a wine you love. Like the layers of flavour a good wine will offer, it often also offers a good story. It always seems to be a person of great passion that is making the wine. Many times the story has a twist.

I started researching Vina Cobos this week and was amazed to see the name of a winemaker that is high on my favorite list. Paul Hobbs has been making fabulous wine from the North Coast of California for many years. All of his wines are highly rated, and many of his wines already have a home in my cellar. Why his association with this winery is not more clearly advertised is a mystery. This would have been an immediate purchase for me if I know Paul was involved. Live and learn.

Paul went down to Argentina in 1988 to assist Nicholas Catena in making Chardonnay. He consulted for 10 years, and left his position to open his own winery. Vina Cobos produced its first wine in 1998. Since then Paul has not looked back. He built a winery on site in 2005. This wine has been getting some rave reviews by some top reviewers ever since.

The nose on this wine is incredibly rich. It took me a minute to actually sort out what I was detecting in the nose. Black Cherry, Dark Berry, and spice really saturates your senses. The dark purple wine is full bodied and rich. Great mouth feel is important to me, and this wine delivers. Big, chewy with black berry fruit and plum notes. The finish extends a long way with a touch of oak. Hobbs ages this in a mix of French and American oak. 21% of the barrels are new, which causes the oak nuance on the finish.

The wine is smooth, but not without good balanced tannins that will allow this one to lay down for a bit. I am very curious to taste this a few years down the line. I think it will actually improve for a few years in bottle. The tannins will integrate and the wine will become softer. There is enough fruit in this beauty to really shine once the tannins settle.

This wine was released at $17.00. For this price, it is a tremendous value. If you have not tried Malbec from Argentina, this is the wine to cut your teeth on. The $17investment won't break the bank, and you might find this to be a new favorite. With Paul Hobbs at the helm, this wine will sail right into your favorites list.

I found this wine in DC at Calvert Woodley for $19. On line buyers can go to and buy this beauty for $14.95. With Paul Hobbs wines from California selling upwards of $75, this is a great deal.

May 16, 2008

Chateau Saint Jean "Belle Terre" Chardonnay

Chardonnay / Sonoma
2005 / 92 points

Chateau Saint Jean has been represented in my cellar for many years. Their Proprietary "Cinq Cepage", is a wonderful Bordeaux blend that consistently gets great scores from most reviewers. I never had the opportunity to try their Chardonnay until I opened a bottle with a friend last week. What a wonderful surprise.

When reviewing Chardonnay in the $20-$25 range, I often have my expectations set on the low side. Much of the chardonnay in this price range is mundane. The grapes used for Chardonnay at this price point are not of the highest quality. Why should they be? The top grapes can be sold or used for wines that are two or three times the money. For $25, I would rather find a bottle of Savignon Blanc or Viognier of excellent quality then suffer through a mediocre chardonnay.

The 2005 Belle Terre Chardonnay delivered a lot of quality for the price. As a reviewer, I should not make assumptions before tasting. This wine reinforced the fact and taught me a valuable lesson.

The wine is light honey colored, with a tinge of green. It is medium to full bodied for a white. The wine clung tenaciously to the glass when swirled. Honeysuckle, Peach, Nectarine and Lemon were prevalent in the nose. Peaches and nectarine are abundant up front, with a nice hint of oak towards the finish. Not overdone, the little bit of oak will please even those who like an "unoaked" chardonnay. The wine is rich and full in the mouth with fabulous length. The finish goes on and on.....fabulous!

This wine was released last year at $25, and can still be found on the winery website at this price. For those of you that are comfortable with internet purchase, it can be found at the Wine Exchange, for $17.99 per bottle. This quality chardonnay is a steal at this price. Back up the truck, and buy a few cases. You can thank me later....get your credit card and buy a case before it is gone.

May 10, 2008

Camellia Cellars - Lencioni Vineyard Zinfandel

2004 / Dry Creek Valley
$24.99 / 90 points

I went to a fabulous LaTour Burgundy tasting last month sponsored by Calvert Woodley Wines, a local wine shop in D.C. They usually sponsor at least 2 wine dinners a month, and for my money, offer the best in Washington. Usually they keep the cost at $99 or less, which includes dinner, wines and all gratuities. In the Washington market, this is a great deal. As part of the entry price to the LaTour tasting, I received a $40 gift card to Calvery Woodley. This was the only excuse I needed to drive into D.C. and look for some new wine.

My favorite question to ask of the staff of any wine store is "What is your current favorite wine to drink TODAY?" Debera Edwards did not hesitate when I asked her. She brought me over to the Zinfandel, and pulled a bottle of Camellia Cellars off the shelf. "If you like Zins, this bottle is great." I immediately put it in my basket.

Camillia Cellars is located in Healdsburg, California. Owned and operated by Father/Daughter team Ray and Chris Lewand and partner/winemaker Bruce Snyder, this team has been producing wine since 1985. In the early days the wine was made in the basement of the family owned Camillia Inn. The winery became a commercial operation and was bonded in 1997. Currently they produce Zinfandel, Cabernet, Sangiovese and a Proprietors Blend.

The zinfandel is dark ruby in color. Quite fragrant, the sweet nose of black cherry, black brier fruit foreshadow your first taste. Medium bodied, cherry, mulberry are prevalent with a bit of black fruit and spice near the end. The wine is fruit forward with soft tannins and a long finish. This is a lot of flavor for the $25 price tag. This is a wine to drink now. It paired beautifully with goat cheese and bread, and the rest of the bottle complemented my Rib-eye steak with class. The bottle was gone WAY too soon.

Pick up a bottle at Calvert Woodley on Connecticut Ave. in DC. It is also sold by mail order from the vineyard . If you go into Calvert Woodley, be sure to tell them that WineGent sent you!

May 2, 2008

Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyards - Maryland

Maryland's Sugarloaf MountainSometimes in life, the most pleasant of days cannot be planned. They just happen. Such was the case this Wednesday when I took the afternoon off to visit some old friends in Barnesville, MD.

Victor and Linda Pepe live on 150+ acres in the shadow of Maryland's Sugarloaf Mountain. Their farm is called "Stella's Dream" in memory of Victor's Mom. It is a beautiful property. Rolling fields, ponds, streams and at least 100 bluebird houses are scattered across the acreage. It is a wonderful place to decompress, and I tend to invite myself to see them at least every other month.

We sat in the kitchen catching up on each others lives. I have a 25 year history with these friends. The best part of the day is when we re-tell stories from the past. Over the years the same stories re-told get better and better. Of course, lunch was accompanied by a few bottles of wine. Victor asked me if I had ever tasted the local wine produced by Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyards. I told him that I had not. Honestly, I have never even heard of the vineyard. That is all Victor had to hear. We were off on a field trip.

The vineyard is only a few miles from Victor's farm. We arrived to the tented tasting room about 2:30, and were welcomed by the staff. The vineyard is a work in progress. While the wine processing, storage and bottling areas are functional, the tasting room is currently housed in a large tent attached to the winery. A cozy tasting bar and tables fill the comfortable space where you instantly feel at home.

A huge red barn is being renovated adjacent to the tasting tent. This will eventually house a formal tasting room and be the central focus of the winery. Plans for the space include a larger tasting room and space for entertainment. This is a perfect spot to hear music while drinking wine in the shadow of Sugarloaf Mountain.
You feel excited when you see what they have done here. It will be difficult for even the most uncreative soul not to see the potential of this space.

Josh Parker manages the tasting room at Sugarloaf. A young man just shy of 30, Josh has an obvious passion for what he does. With a good understanding of wines, and a contagious passion for the Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyard, he is a wealth of knowledge. We spent quite a bit of time conversing about the wines and future plans of the owners. He also has a deft hand when blending his delicious sangria recipe. Be sure to try a glass if it is available!

I spent the afternoon with my old friends and new friends drinking wine and noshing on some fabulous local goat cheese sold in the tasting room. ALL of the wines here are worth tasting. There is a Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet and a few Bordeaux blends. It was interesting to see they produced both a Left Bank and a Right Bank blend. Both were good, and for about $20, they rival some of the best local wines I've tasted.

The vineyard is open Wednesday through Sunday for tasting. There is a nominal fee for tasting, but grossly inexpensive considering the good wine and great company. I find it hard to believe that anyone would leave here without a smile on their face. More importantly, a long thought as to when they can return. I can guarantee it will be a destination for me at least a few times this summer.

Sugarloaf Mountain Vineyard has a great website with information on the wines, the winery history and directions. Be sure to let them know that WineGent sent you!

April 25, 2008

Vergelegen "Sauvignon Blanc Reserve" 2006

Sauvignon Blanc / South Africa
$19-$24 / 92 points

OK, those of you who have been loyal readers of my reviews already know I am not a big fan of Sauvignon Blanc. For me, choosing Sauvignon Blanc is boring. Picture going into a wonderful bakery with a shelf full of artisanal bread, and instead of buying a beautiful Rye or Pumpernickel you buy white "Wonder Bread". I know, many of you that are fans of Sauvignon Blanc have just gasped. It is one of the more popular white wines in the world. Well, not for me.

I was invited to taste two different styles of Sauvignon Blanc with some wine friends. We were going to compare two South African Sauvignon Blancs with distinctly different styles. We tasted side by side and I expected my notes to reflect the same adjectives that always are placed in my Sauvignon Blanc reviews. Crisp, Tart, know the words. After a while, the wines and reviews for Sauvignon Blanc all blend together.

Well, yesterday one of the wines surprised me. Although it still had the same adjectives for nose and flavours, there was one adjective that I cannot ever remember using as a descriptor. INTENSE!

Vergelegen is located in the Stellenbosch region of South Africa. About 45 minutes from Capetown, this area is a perfect micro climate for Sauvignon Blanc. Wines from this region have been making astounding progress in increasing market share in the United States. Quality is the main reason, and reasonable prices put them over the top.

Vergelegen, which means "Location Far Away", is an idyllic setting. Gardens and restored mansions fill the property. Vineyards were engineered long ago to utilize gravity for water distribution. This illustrates the pains and planning that went into making this property successful. The wine reflects this dedication to quality.

This wine poured a light straw color and immediately the aromas were leaping from the glass. Grapefruit, Grass, White Flowers and some Green Pepper/Herb were all evident. The flavors were Grapefruit Rind, Flint, Guava, Fig and Mineral. The Grapefruit component was intense. This is NOT a typical Sauvignon Blanc. This is a Sauvignon Blanc with a flavour profile on steroids.

All of you are not going to like this wine. Many of you are going to send me e-mails telling me I am out of my mind. What I have found over the last few years is that many of you DO have a similar palate to mine. If this is the case, it is worth finding this wine and giving it a try. I am very curious to see what you have to say.

April 21, 2008

Four Vines Zinfandel - Dusi 2005

Four Vines wineZinfandel / California
$28-$33 / 90 points

I have been hearing great things lately about Amador County wines. I have had no less then seven e-mails this week chastising me for not investigating this up and coming area 45 miles southeast of Sacramento. Being a Zin lover, I did not need much additional prompting.

Four Vines Vineyard has been getting lots of critical acclaim. Founder Christian Tietje is a self proclaimed hedonist and former chef from Boston. With two partners he has greatly increased the capacity of this growing winery, without sacrificing any quality. With fifteen different wines, he and his partners are kept busy. After tasting his Dusi Zinfandel, I think they will only get busier.

The wine pours a medium ruby typical of a California Zin. Aromas of Red Fruit with a bit of mint and menthol. The wine is medium bodied with generous red brier fruit, cherry, spice with a bit of anise and menthol on the finish. The tannins are well integrated making this wine easy to drink. This wine has good structure and will cellar for two or three years without any issues. Good finish, not too long, but pleasant. This would be a great wine with hearty fare like stew, pasta or braised beef.

There were less then 500 cases of this wine produced. You should call around to your favorite wine store to see if they carry it. In the DC area, it is carried by Pearson's at 2436 Wisconsin Avenue, NW, D.C. It is on sale for $23 per bottle. At this price, back up the truck! Call ahead to check availability. At this price, it will go fast.

Pearson's / 202-333-6666

April 20, 2008

"Testal" Italian Blend

Rosso de Veronese / Verona Red
$18 to $23 / 2004

I have been very lucky in life when it comes to friendships. I have been blessed with many friends, some better then others, but all wonderful. With wine, there is an important parallel. There are some wines that year in and year out provide great satisfaction and bring a smile to my face.

Last night I went out to see a movie ("The Visitor"), and afterwards went for a late dinner at a new Italian restaurant in DC. While waiting for our table, I perused the wine list to see what was available. It was a short, carefully chosen list, with many of the usual suspects.

When you walk into a crowded room instinctively you scan the room for a familiar face. When you find a friend, you tend to smile and walk towards them to say hello. It is a similar experience when reviewing an unfamiliar wine list. You scan the list and cannot help but find the wines you know. This was the case for me last night. Testal for me is a perennial favorite. It only took a moment for me to decide to catch up with an old friend.

Corvina is the indigenous grape in the Verona region of Italy. Amarone and Ripassa are made with this grape. If you enjoy Amarone, you know that a good bottle can set you back $50 to $100 each. Although one of my favorite Italian wines, the price of Amarone can be prohibitive. Finding a substitute at a more reasonable price has been a continual quest.

I was introduced to Testal 4 years ago. It was a top pick on one of the "Best Value" lists that I review every year. It was described as a "Poor Man's Amarone", which immediately caught my attention. Once I tried a bottle, it has been a perennial favorite. The 2004 vintage is no exception.

This wine is produced using grapes that have been partially dried. The top vines are cut then hung at harvest. The dried grapes are then picked, pressed and placed into large oak casks to age. This drying process concentrates the juice and contributes to the rich character of this wine.

The Corvina is blended with 3% Cabernet and 3% Merlot in the final blend. This has been a consistent formula for this wine from year to year. The Corvina gives the wine great structure and the addition of the Cabernet and Merlot lend a balance to the blend.

The wine pours dark ruby. It has a rich nose of cherry and sweet brier fruit with a bit of vanilla and spice. The red fruit is prominent and the finish is long. Tannins are in balance, but not overabundant. While others in my group thought this wine could age for a bit, I found the tannins in balance with the fruit. This one may lay down for a short while, but why wait? It has been consistently good wine from year to year. Drink it now, and have faith that next year vintage won't disappoint.

I would recommend that you have this wine with food. It is bold, and would be well suited to meats and pasta. Although it was recommended that the wine be opened an hour before serving, I don't feel it is necessary. It may be tough to find this wine at your local supermarket, but is widely distributed and worth the time to find.

Let me know what you think. I suspect that once you try this wine you will like its personality. For me, that is the number one requirement for a new, or old friend.

Nicolis wines

April 18, 2008

La Vieille Ferme Rose 2006

Cotes du Ventoux / France
Rose / 88 Points

Spring has sprung in the Metro D.C. area! All of us that have been cooped up all winter are dying to break out the charcoal and enjoy a nice dinner outside. This Rose, although inexpensive, provides a big bang for the buck. Most importantly, it is made in enormous quantity, which makes it widely available.

This review is for the Rose'. I only mention this because La Vieille Ferme (The Old Farm), also makes a very nice budget red. This wine is not a connoisseur's wine by any stretch of the imagination. It is an everyday table wine. This is a blend of 50% Cinsault, 40% Grenache and 10% Syrah. Very nice, both flavor and price.

Light pink in color, it oozes the scent of strawberry and bitter cherry. Although it smells sweet, it is a nicely balanced blend with good acidity and crisp flavors. The flavour of the wine reflects the nose. Light bodied, it delivers strawberry and cherry, with a pleasant finish.

This wine is custom made for grilling everything from pork chops to sausage. It goes down easy, and will be enjoyed by all who partake. Don’t be put off by the screw top. Many of the budget wines are going in this direction to save cost. It is a perfect picnic wine; no need for a corkscrew.

Value is a highly overused and misunderstood term as it relates to wine. A value wine is one that gives you more then you may expect for what you have to pay. This wine, using that definition, is a winner.

La Vieille Ferme Vineyards

April 13, 2008

Worthy "Sophia's Cuvee"

Bordeaux Blend / 2005
Napa / $25-$35
91 points

I have been a fan of Worthy since the first release in 2001. It is a "second label" of the super premium "Axios" brand owned by Maryland wine wholesaler Gus Kalaris. A family man, Gus named this wine after his daughter Sophia. It may be his second label, but it certainly does not play "second fiddle." This is a delicious Cabernet Blend.

Bob Egelhoff is the winemaker for "Axios" and "Worthy". In his 20 plus years of experience, he has been involved with production of many stellar wines. Harlen, Pahlmeyer, Beckstoffer and Merryvale to name a few. He has been working as a consultant to many fine wine producers, and continues to produce quality wine for all on his client list.

This wine debuted in 2001 to stellar reviews. It has been off the radar for the past few years, but has maintained consistently high quality. This wine has a large contingent of loyal fans that see "Worthy" as a wonderful value. I will agree. For the price, ($25 to $35) this wine is a fabulous find.

The wine pours deep purple. When swirled the wine clings to the sides of the glass. Aromas of Black Fruit, Blueberry, Cassis, and Earth expand as you continue to swirl. The wine has a lush mouth feel. Black and Blue fruit, Cherry, Currant and a bit of Cassis are nicely balanced. This is a great bottle to have with a big steak. There is an abundance of oak and firm tannins which mellow a bit after the wine opens. It is best to decant the 2005 or open it an hour or so before serving.

This wine is beautifully balanced. Although the fruit is prominent in this wine, it does not overwhelm. Those looking for a "fruit bomb" will be disappointed. This is a serious wine that should evolve in the bottle for at least two years and lay down for six or more. That is rare for an American wine in this price range.

Those with a budget of $25 for a nice everyday cab should consider making this your new favorite. Those who see $25 as a special treat, will be well rewarded. This wine is widely available, and can be found by the case in the $25 range. Give it a taste, and be sure to let me know your thoughts.

April 12, 2008

My Favorite Butcher (I confess)

I have a passion for cooking. I tend to lean toward meat and potatoes, true to my Irish roots. My favorite meal, by far, is a well marbled rib-eye steak done to medium rare on the grill.

My frugality lies in direct opposition to my taste. Of course, to find some of the best rib-eye steak, you can pay up to $18 a pound. To eat steak, except on a special occasion, is cost prohibitive....or is it?

Now for the confession part of this article, and I hope, some useful information. Steak that looks and tastes like steak from a premium butcher does not have to cost a fortune. For that matter, it does not have to come from a premium butcher. That's right, it really doesn't. What is the secret? Read on.

When is the last time you went into your local market and spoke directly with the butcher? Never? That does not surprise me. With supermarkets getting larger and larger, and our society getting more and more tolerant of prepackaged food, few of us even realize there is a butcher there. Not only are they there...they are LONELY!

Years ago, while perusing the meat aisle for some good looking rib-eyes, I was looking pretty dejected. Although the steaks were on sale at a GREAT price, there was not much for me to choose from. All of the steaks in the case were cut 1/2" thick, and looked more like minute steaks, then the big juicy rib-eyes that I envisioned. There was a meat man in the aisle restocking the ground beef who noticed my indecision and asked if he could help.

I explained my frustration, told him what I needed, and he said, "No, problem...let me see what I have in the cooler". He came back with a full rib and asked how I liked my steak. He too was a steak lover, and cut me the most beautiful steaks I have ever seen. He wrapped the package and handed it to me, and I thanked him profusely for his assistance. He said....(Listen closely as this is the key to your future steak success)..."Thank you sir! Anytime I can assist, my name is Rich. Ring the bell and I am happy to cut you whatever you need!"

When I got over the giddiness of finding what I wanted, I took inventory of what just occurred. Rich had just rocked my world with some awesome steaks. Being a sales type...I wrote a letter to the Big Chain Store gushing about Rich and my experience and thanking them for the service. Guess what happened two weeks later when I was looking for a nice steak?

I rang the bell, the window behind the meat case opened and my new best friend Rich beamed. Before I could say hello, Rich started thanking me for the great letter I sent to his Employer. Although it was sent to the president of the company, 2 states away, the letter worked its way down the chain of command until it got back to my local supermarket. Rich was given a plaque for customer service that month and was given a small raise as a reward for his customer service.

From that time onward, Rich was my personal butcher. He always went out of his way to get me the best available beef, and never disappointed me when he made recommendations. I never forgot to look him in the eye and thank him when he handed me my package. I knew that every time I thanked him I ensured the next time I came in I was top on his list.

I have moved 3 times since I met Rich. In each city I moved to, I always made my way back to the butcher window and rang the bell. I always gave a genuine thank you to the butcher that helped me, and if they were good, I always wrote a letter to their boss. Needless to say, for years now I have been the recipient of some of the best beef my local store has to offer.

The advantage of being known to your friends and acquaintances as a food and wine lover is they make assumptions. Most believe I do not drink cheap wine, and only will eat the best steak. The truth is, I will only drink GOOD wine, regardless of price. As for the steaks? My personal butcher ensures I eat only the best....

Bloom SupermarketsMy new personal butcher is Mike at "Bloom" supermarket in Rockville, Maryland. Mike has gone above and beyond to make my experience with him fantastic. Thank you Mike. A letter is on the way to corporate letting them know how lucky they are to have you in their employ. I look forward to working with a man that knows his craft and is proud of what he cuts. Although you are a bit further then my local store, you are worth the twenty extra miles.

So there you have it. An old fashioned way to buy at newfangled markets. Ring the bell!

April 10, 2008

Tait "Ball Buster" (Really!)

Shiraz / Barossa ValleyShiraz / Barossa Valley
91 pts. / $14-$21

This is the second time I have reviewed Tait's "Ball Buster". I raved about it last year when the 2005 was released, and I was looking forward to see if the wine quality would remain consistent. It has.

I actually purchased this wine last year to give as a gag gift to a fellow wine geek. He had a tendency to give me a hard time about some of my reviews, so the "Ball Buster" moniker was appropriate. It was Australian, reasonably priced and certainly good for a few laughs. Well, the joke was on me. The wine was, and is, a fabulous value.

The 2006 is as good as the 2005, but different. The 2005 was rich, chewy with lots of glycerin. It had good structure, and had the bones to lay down for years in the cellar. The 2005 has softer tannins. Still remarkably delicious, just softer, ready now and easier to drink.

The wine is actually a blend. It is 78% Shiraz, 12% Cabernet and 10% Merlot. Each grape brings strengths to the blend. This is another case of the whole being better then the sum of its parts. Those of you that have been reading over the years know I am a sucker for a big, fruity blend. This is it.

The wine pours a deep purple typical of this style Aussie Shiraz. It is lip staining purple. The nose leads with fresh asphalt, earth, lots of blue fruit, coffee and some anise on the end. The flavors are explosive. Blueberry, mocha, tar are mouth filling and satisfying. You can taste the tannins, but they are velvety, more mature and not overwhelming.

I have found this wine on-line from $13.99 to $21. This wine, especially in this vintage, is a must try. Don't let the silly name or low price fool you. This is a seriously good wine!

I was invited to a Ridge Vineyards tasting this evening in Arlington, VA. I can't wait to taste their portfolio. I'll be sure to report on my favorites later in the week. Please be sure to leave your comments after tasting. Let me know if you agree with my tasting notes.

April 7, 2008

Willamette Valley Vineyards Whole Cluster Pinot

Pinot Noir / $19
Wilamette Valley / Oregon

A good friend just returned from Portland, and picked up some Oregon Pinot Noir for us to try. We tasted three wines, all in the $20 range. Only one stood out, and for the $20 price tag, Willamette Valley Whole Cluster Pinot is a fabulous value.

Oregon is a hotbed for American Pinots. There is very little difficulty in finding 20 or more at your favorite wine store. The difficulty is finding one you like at the $20 price point.

Jim Bernau purchased the estate in 1983. A former plum orchard, this land was well suited to the cool climate varietals he wanted. He cleared the the old orchard and planted his first Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Gris taking care to hand water the vines until established.

For Jim, passion of the grape is shared with passion for the environment. Stewardship is a catchword in much of his winery literature. He has implemented a variety of programs to limit the winery's carbon footprint. Recycled corks, free bio fuel for his employees, credit for each returned empty bottle or cardboard shipper are just a few of the innovative programs in place.

Willamette is one of the few vineyards certified sustainable. They plant, maintain and harvest their grapes using methods safe to the local watersheds and wildlife. This is expensive stuff that certainly effects the bottom line. You would not find this type of environmental consciousness at a corporate owned vineyard. Kudos to Jim and company for their work. The best way to let wineries know that this environmental consciousness is appreciated is to buy their wine. (Allow me to now step off my soapbox...)

Lets talk about the wine a bit. It pours a beautiful clear ruby color. Swirling the wine releases loads of strawberry, raspberry and candied fruit aromas. You can tell from the nose this is going to be a hedonistic wine. The strawberry leads the charge when tasted, with raspberry, cherry and a bit of spice following closely. It has a nice mid-palate with an interesting cherry coke nuance. The finish, although not long, is pleasant. All too often Pinot in this range has bitterness or off tastes on the finish. The wine is generally well balanced, dangerously easy to drink, and will be a crowd-pleaser wherever served.

This wine is delicious. I was genuinely surprised at the $19 price tag. I spoke with a representative of the vineyard who promised to follow up to provide some local retailers for this wine. The beauty of a smaller winery is the care they take to make their wines. The difficulty of the smaller winery is finding a reliable distribution channel for their product. It is times like these I wish I lived in Oregon.

In the DC area, these wonderful wines can be found at Schneiders of Capitol Hill, Paul's, Pearson's and Rodman's all on Wisconsin Avenue in DC. Call to be sure they have the 2007 in stock, and let me know if you find the 2006....I'd love to taste them side by side.

These guys have a great website. You can read all about their wines, company philosophy and more importantly, order these wine on-line.

April 3, 2008

Ridge Chardonnay 2005

Santa Cruz Mountains / $35

"You need to get to know your local wine merchant." Does this sound familiar? I have been preaching this theme for years now to anyone that would listen. When you finish reading this will understand why.

Whenever I discuss Ridge Chardonnay with my wine cronies, the first thing they say is "Ridge makes a Chardonnay?" The answer is yes, they have been producing a quality Chardonnay for years. Why haven't we ever heard about it?

Probably because it is snapped up so fast it never gets much exposure on the shelf.

Last spring, I went to my local wine shop to pick up some wine that I ordered. Doug Rosen, the owner of Arrowine asked me if I ever had the Ridge Chardonnay. I told him I had not, and he told me I had to try some. I clearly explained that I was a Chardonnay snob. My likes in chardonnays were limited to Kistler, Pahlmeyer and Kongsgaard; all of these wines over $75 a bottle if you can find them. He was not daunted by my response, and said,"You have got to buy some Ridge."

He had the Ridge coming in the following day. I asked how much I should buy...and he recommended two cases. I clearly must have looked at him as if he were crazy. He said to buy it, and if I was not thrilled with the wine...he would take every bottle back. Let's now talk about the wine.

It pours a golden yellow and is intensely aromatic. Perfume of white flowers, honeysuckle, quince and pear get your attention immediately. As you swirl, the fruit comes forward with pineapple and melon....beautiful nose.

The wine is full and lush in the mouth. Great Pear and fig flavors on the front with toast and mineral rounding out a buttery finish. Brioche toast is a great description. This wine has an incredibly long finish. It is reminiscent of a mature French Montrachet. Incredible.

Unlike many American Chardonnay, this one will age. You can be comfortable laying some of this down to evolve, although I cannot imagine you will want to. It is too delicious now.

So, to finish my story.......I asked Doug what this wine was rated to try to get a handle on what it was like, and whether I should pull the trigger and buy the two cases. He said that as far as he knew it was not yet rated. But, he suspected it would be 90+ points, and would be impossible to find once a good rating came out. Sounded fair, so I bought the two cases.

Since I took Doug's advice, the Ridge has won all sorts of awards. It was rated as Wine Spectator's #2 wine of the year, and awarded 95 points. Needless to say, it was impossible to find once these high scores and accolades were published.

The best news of all? The wine was only $35. Comparably priced Chardonnay is $75 or more. Kongsgaard lists for almost $300 a bottle.....I did not pay much more then that for a whole case of the Ridge.

The moral of the story is "Get to know your local wine merchant". Although this wine for 2005 is no longer available, they may be able to save you a bit of the 2006 which should be released soon. Don't miss it!

Doug Rosen of Arrowine would love to be your local wine merchant. Tell him Gerry sent you!

April 2, 2008

Soave Classico - "Le Bine de Costiola"

Garganega / Veneto
Italy / $20

It has been a long time since I have tasted an Italian Soave. This wine is generally made from Garganega grapes that are prevalent in the Veneto growing region of Italy. Soave was most often a inexpensive bottle of wine that was made by the village cooperative. All the towns growers would pool their annual harvest and make wine out of the blended juice.

Pio and Gaetano Tamellini always felt as though their vineyards were producing juice that was far superior to neighboring vineyards. In 1998 they risked it all and decided to keep their own juice to make their own wine. They hired veteran winemaker Paulo Caciorgna to oversee the wine making process. Their gamble paid off.

Debbie Larson dropped this wine off to me in my office to taste. I was surprised to see Soave on the label. Rather then make assumptions about what I suspected this wine to be...I decided to take it with me to Charleston, SC over Easter break and give it a try.

The wine is darker then I suspected it would be. It poured like a dessert wine, light honey colored and viscous. It clung to the sides of the glass when swirled. I could instantly smell apricots, lemon, apple pie spices and honey. The aroma was heady and pleasant. It really invited you to take your first sip.

The wine was fat and unctuous. It is full of glycerin and fruit flavor. The honey and mineral component are up front with lemon, pineapple and spice on the finish. This was not the Soave that my parents used to drink with Wednesday night spaghetti dinner. This wine had the mouth feel of a good (read expensive) chardonnay and wonderful flavour combination of apricot and honey....very nice.

What amazes me most is the Tamellini Brothers produced this delicious wine in a mediocre year. This is a producer that should be re-visited in better growing years to see what they can really do with good juice. I suspect the potential is there to knock our socks off.

This wine has enough backbone and structure to last a few years in the cellar. It seems to be fully mature, so don't cellar it thinking it will get better. For around $20, I see this as a bargain wine. Drink it with food. The weight of the wine warrants you have something with it. I am thinking a good loaf of Italian bread, some fresh Parma cheese, and maybe some roasted red peppers with good olive oil. Any white meats....lemon chicken, fresh ham, pork roast...Mmm, Mmm, Good.

I have not been able to find this widely available on the web. This is one that you will have to hunt down. Check with some of the reputable wine shops in your area, or link to one of my preferred wine shops in my "Favorite Links" on the right margin of the blog.

Tonight I am going to a tasting with Louis Fabrice Latour, CEO and owner of legendary producer Louis Latour. Calvert Woodley is sponsoring, and we will taste the 2005 Red Burgundies and the 2006 White Burgundies. This should be fabulous.

March 28, 2008

Montes Alpha Syrah

Syrah Blend / 2005
Apalta Valley / Chile

It is so nice to have "Wine Friends" that are as excited about wine as I am. Every week I am amazed at the number of people that visit my site and take the time to comment or make suggestions of wines to try. What started as a hobby, has become something more. Where this journey will end I do not know. I have to say, I am having a heck of a lot of fun on the trip.

This week my friend and fellow wine buff Barbara Johnson dropped off a bottle of Montes Alpha Syrah and asked for my opinion. She and I have similar palates, so I was excited to give it a try. I am a fan of Chilean wines from way back. Initially it was because of their affordability more then their quality. Lately, it is more about quality. Their reasonable price is just icing on the cake.

Montes Alpha is producing their wines with a trick learned from the Australians. They add a bit of Cabernet and Viognier to the Syrah, and the wine becomes better then the sum of its parts. This wine certainly does. With the addition of 7% Cabernet and 3% Viognier the wine is given some added structure and great aromatics. This wine is a smooth gem.

It pours a dark ruby color and emits floral, tobacco and earthy aromas. There is also a hint of red fruit on the nose, but it is tough to isolate. The red fruit comes through when tasting. This full bodied syrah blend has berries and cassis galore, with leather and earth layers. This wine was aged for 12 months in French oak, and you can taste a bit of the oak on the finish.

The wine has a nice mouth feel. Rich and hearty, you can feel the structure that the Cabernet has delivered in the blend. A slight floral note on the long finish gives a hint to the small amount of Viognier added before bottling. The tannins do not overwhelm. This is an easy bottle to drink as the tannins are mature and a bit velvety. It has nice balance from start to finish.

Overall, this is a lovely bottle of wine. A different style and richness then the Australian Shiraz, this is a great wine for a hearty steak or stew. You won't be disappointed. Look for the 2005 vintage, it should be available now. Although this will lay down in a cellar for some time, it is a winner right now. I would not expect this to improve a great deal in the bottle.

The Montes Alpha wines and many of their Chilean competitors have been improving in quality dramatically. A few have been included in top 100 wine honors, and are certainly worth a try. Don't hesitate to give these wines a look. Don't limit yourself to just the Syrah. They have Cabernet, Merlot, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay as well.

For those who can be found at Costco for about $18.00. Otherwise, it can be found at any good wine store for about $21.00. Thank-you Barbara for the great recommendation. Anyone that has some suggestions for future columns, or wants to submit a wine for review, please e-mail me!

Check out Montes Alpha On-Line