Friday, June 19, 2020

Wine Writing In These Times

If you've come back to check on what wines I've been recommending, well, it's been a quiet month or so. And not without good reason. Contemplating wine is a luxury, a folly of epic proportions in the most joyful of times.  However, these are not the most joyful of times, and writing about wine right now sort of feels like laughing at a funeral: inappropriate.

Yes, we all want distractions (like what to drink tonight) to help get us through the tough times, to make us feel like there's eventually going to be a return to normalcy.  But maybe now is one of those times when distractions and normalcy are also inappropriate.

When these pages do light up again - and they will before long - I've got a back log of recommendations to catch us all up on.  Until then, stay safe, stay sane, and participate in positive change (perhaps with a glass of wine in hand.)

Friday, May 15, 2020

Wine of The Week - May 15

Drinkable California pinot noir under $20 has been one of the wine industry's unicorns for a long time.  In fact, depending on the region, spending $20 on a random pinot is fraught with risk as the entry level for places like Santa Rita Hills, Russian River Valley, and many others is closer to $40.  Every once in a while, though, a pleasant surprise comes along.  This is one of those

2018 Castle Rock Pinot Noir California Cuvee $8
Generous fruit is framed by a respectable spice rack and moderate acidity, making for a versatile crowd-pleaser. Way more than merely serviceable, this pinot outperforms its on-sale price tag by a wide margin.  Actually tastes like California pinot noir without the jammy, high-octane bite.  By it by the case.

Monday, April 27, 2020

Sicilian Delights - Tasca d’Almerita Tenuta Regaleali

So terrific, broadly-appealing, and well-priced, the regular, entry level bianco from this producer was our house white last summer. We must have gone through a couple of cases, turning many friends and neighbors into Sicilian white converts. So, when this quartet of samples from the same producer showed up, curiosity and excitement got them a bump in the review queue.

Below are notes on two reds and two whites, with the formers still young and the latters well worth your efforts to seek out as we forge ahead into porch season. These are all fairly priced right around $20, but the much lower priced bianco (linked to above) is likely to be a repeat house white this summer - it's just awfully tough to beat for the money.  Most importantly, these wines serve as encouraging signposts for further exploration in Sicilian wine.

2017 Regaleali Perricone Guarnaccio $20
Made in a rustic style, this deeply consonant red’s mouth-coating tannins give it a good grip. Flavors from hillside brush and wild herbs dance behind the firm fruit, and give way to a taut finish that suggests companionable harmony at the dinner table - and longevity. Longs for a hearty Genovese - and some more time in the bottle. 

2016 Regaleali Nero d'Avola Lamùri $20
The clarity and depth of the color are beguiling; deep garnet that somehow transmits light brilliantly. The clean, almost austere nose leads into a palate exhibiting the coyness of youth. The tannins are prominent and still firm, but cannot disguise the character of fruit that lies beneath. Mouth-coating, chalky tannins lined with minerals add to the brooding depth.  There’s a vigor here that will no doubt give away to supple balance over time. In the meantime, the energy is spring-like and iridescent. Patience will be rewarded. 

2018 Regaleali Catarratto Antisa $22
Oh, my! My inner wine nerd just woke up and it’s Christmas morning. This wine is so many things at once, all of them wonderful, and all of them in miraculous, understated balance. Platinum blonde-colored and with a coy nose, first impressions on the palate are dazzling: white flower petals, minerality, and a faint salinity entrance not just for their harmonious coexistence, but because each is discernible without any characteristic having to raise their voice. The focused acidity ties everything together on the finish, making this easy to peg as the regular bianco’s elegant, sophisticated mother. Makes you want to board the next flight to Palermo.

2018 Regaleali Grillo Cavallo delle Fate $20
If the regular bianco (mentioned above) shaved its legs, did its do, and got dressed up for a night on the town, it would look and taste something like this grillo. Focused minerals lay atop a vibrant, light weight fruit body framed by crisp, unobtrusive acidity - all in deft balance. Elegant, honest, and versatile. This wine now holds the awards for fastest emptied bottle in our household.

Thursday, April 23, 2020

What You Should Know Before Ordering Wine Online

Lead Times Are Extremely Long Right Now

Earlier this month Forbes reported on the impact the pandemic has had on wine sales. (Tip of the hat to Jeff over at The Wine Curmudgeon for that link.) Suffice it to say that online sales are up. Way, way up.  No surprise there, but there are some interesting signals in the data that hint at shifts in consumer purchasing behavior that may well outlast social distancing.  Regardless, if you, like me, are tempted to move some of your wine buying to online sources, but you're low on wine now, go down to your local shop and get what you need.  But if you're looking to provision your back stock, compounded delays should be factored into your decision before you pull the trigger on an online order. 

Just six weeks ago, you could order a case of wine online on a Monday and it would arrive on your doorstep Wednesday.  That speed is, at least for the time being, a thing of a bygone era.  Retailers with established online operations have seen sales skyrocket at a time when they've trimmed staff to minimize the risk of infection.  The result is long delays in order picking/shipping - but that's just the beginning. Once your order eventually does ship, carriers are prioritizing critical shipments, tacking on additional days to delivery non-critical boxes of wine.  And when your package finally arrives on your doorstep, it really does need a couple of weeks to settle down from shipping shock.

All of this adds up to very long lead times from when you order the wine to when you can drink it.  For example, Marketview Liquor, one of my go-to online spots was telling customers to expect a 10 day order-ship delay (before they began denying all out of state orders!)  I ordered 3 cases from them over a two week period.  Thanks to a rerouting/de-prioritization of my shipment, it took more than a week for those to arrive.  To quantify this, let's say I placed my order on April 1. 

Order Placed 4/1--->Order Ships 4/10--->Order Arrives 4/18--->Two Week Bottle Shock Period--->Drinking Window Opens May 2

That's a staggering 31 days from order to drink.  So, if you're low on wine now, shop local.

Timeliness is not the only reason to patronize your local independent, either.  If you've been saving yourself a stop and getting your wine at the grocery store, you are not alone.  Grocery store wine sales are up more than 30%, which means that large producers (who are able to get placement at large grocers) and the distributors which represent them are enjoying sales increases.  But this comes at the expense of non-grocery retailers, producers, and the distributors which represent them - adding insult to the trade war tariffs that were already debilitating imports.  Though the big guys will fare just fine, there will be many casualties in the wine industry, most of them small-medium sized.  So, if you value variety and selection, giving your business to your wine shop won't just sidestep the long lead time, but help them (and their unique upstream suppliers) survive this. Better yet, call them ahead of time to have them assemble your order for you to pick up curbside.

Stay safe, stay sane.

Monday, April 20, 2020

Recycle Bin, Week of April 20

As the quarantine drags on, I'm grateful for having ordered a few cases of mixed bottles about a month ago.  Drinking through these has unearthed some fun surprises and a few disappointments.  At the top of the list of wines to seek out are a French white and a Chilean (sort of) red.  Later this week we'll look at some things to keep in mind when ordering online.  In the meantime, stay safe, stay sane, and drink on.

(Reviews are in order of the photo above, from left to right.)

2018 Vina Maitia Aupa Pipeno Chile $10
Made of 80% pais and 20% carignan, this lip-smacking red is closer in color to a rosé than most reds.  That luminescence carries through onto the palate where it shines brightly.  Red fruit framed by crisp, refreshing acidity is delivered in a straightforward, gulpable package, thanks in no small part to its low (12.5%) alcohol and dry farming.  Unusual and absolutely worth a try slightly chilled.

2018 Michel Lelu Muscadet Loire $12
Speaking of low alcohol, this inexpensive white is full of jubilant energy and offers a big mouthful of taut, cracking flavors leaning towards sauvignon blanc.  How they've managed to include so much in a wine of just 11.5% ABV is a mystery to me, but what a difference it makes to start an evening with a glass of this as opposed to a 14% chardonnay.  Buy it by the case.

2018 Milou Rouge Vin de Pays d'Oc $12 
What this wine lacks in pedigree it more than makes up for with its appealing freshness.  An uncomplicated, versatile blend of syrah and grenache that will happily go with anything from burgers to pasta primavera, it is still a bargain even though tariffs have pushed the cost beyond last year's $10 steal of a price tag.

2016 Tenuta di Arceno Chianti Classico $15
Chianti Classicos are getting more and more expensive, so it was a bit of a coup to find this one for under $20.  Though my preference tends towards the more puritanical expressions of sangiovese, this broad-shouldered example will appeal to many who enjoy stout reds.  The oak is pronounced without being overpowering and adds an element of structure to the big fruit on display.  A chianti to enjoy with steak.

2018 Del Cerro Chianti Colli Senesi $8
A real disappointment.  The 2013 vintage of this wine made it on to my short list of 2015's best wines and that was at a price popint of $12.  The same bottling is now 30% less expensive, but now we know why.  It's worse than simple or plain; it's just mediocre.

2017 Hahn GSM Central Coast $13
Ordered on a whim, this classic Rhone red blend of grenache, syrah, and mourvedre met expectations on the heft front.  Not at all shy and in firm possession of the concentrated fruit and oak regimen we've come to expect from mass-marketed California reds, it exceeded expectations in one important regard: the best GSMs straddle an impossible line between fresh, ripe fruit and meaty, savory flavors.  When that happens, it's like magic.  And even though that magic is not the first thing to hit you about this wine, that it's there at all at this price is impressive.

Monday, April 6, 2020

Hess Select: I'll Spend My Hard-Earned Money On These

I’m not sure why I keep expecting these wines to be of the stereotypical grocery store variety, particularly given their increasingly impressive track record, but boy do they continue to surprise.  Hess Select has been the Hess Collection's value tier of wines for decades, but the sourcing and winemaking have turned a corner recently.  Whether that's due to the addition of Allison Rodriguez to the winemaking team or some other reason, it's a benefit to value and quality-conscious consumers.  Though there's not a stinker in the mix here, smart wine shoppers will do as I have: find the two bonafide standouts in this line-up ASAP: the rosé and pinot noir. 

Prices below are suggested retail, so there's a decent chance you'll find them for even less in your local market.

2019 Hess Select Pinot Gris California $12
Playful and uncomplicated, yet true to the variety, this makes an ideal house wine for porch pounding evenings in the season ahead. It would also do a fine double duty as a companion to lighter barbecue fare. 

2019 Hess Select Rosé California $12
Focused and crisp with a surprisingly inviting acidity and mid-weight palate. A more serious wine than its color, packaging, and price would suggest. Fantastic and impossible to resist.

2018 Hess Select Pinot Noir Central Coast $19
This pinot noir is yet another data point in Hess' long-holding trend of delivering surprising complexity at a value price point. In addition to a translucent body that manages to deliver plenty of full throttle flavor, it has that burnt orange peel spice found in my favorite of high-end California pinots. Add some very enjoyable acidity and a sub $20 price tag, and you’ve got a real winner here.

2017  Hess Select Cabernet Sauvignon North Coast $19
Plush, rich, soft-edged, and velvety, this is a rounder, less-structured vintage than the 2016. And while that makes it less serious, it also makes it more accessible. Warm cedar and vanilla/caramel wrap the ample dark fruit, and gentle oak spices linger on the finish. A real crowd-pleaser of a wine.

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Farther Apart, Closer Together

Credit to Carrie Reed at Freehand PR for the tip on this feel-good silver lining.  Rombauer Vineyards in Napa Valley is, well, I'll skip the background because you'll want to just get right to the good stuff.

Go here to read their open letter, titled 'Joy Prevails'.  Then keep scrolling down to watch the three very brief videos, each sweeter than the next.

We can do this, people.  Yes we can.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

A Silly Wine For Serious Times

Some wines command respect for their elegance or craft or balance, like the way an evocative work of art affects you.  They are serious wines, either by tone or by quality.   At the far opposite end of the seriousness spectrum are cheap thrill wines; flashy wines that deliver gregarious characteristics that, when concentrated, impart a caricature-like silliness.  They are also a ton of fun to drink. 

I used to refer to this category of wines as mopeds because deep down you really want to take onbe for a ride - just as long as no one is watching.  In a universe of virtually unlimited, more serious options, indulging in cheap thrills feels like, well, indulging in cheap thrills.  And if ever there was a moment, this is it.

NV A to Z Bubbles Oregon $16/$20
The silliness of drinking a wine like this at a time like now is inescapable. And therein lies it’s equally inescapable pleasure. From the whimsical, over-the-top packaging to its riotous, straight-out-of-a-focus-group color, into its fruit-powered palate, and in every one of its oversized bubbles, this is an unapologetically boisterous and fun wine. Don’t look for sophisticated layers of dimension framed by crunchy acidity. Instead, just surrender to the near absurdity of this wine's obviousness and you’ll find you can’t help but smile. Available in a clear 750ml bottle ($16) capped with a crown closure or in cute 250ml cans ($20).

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

What To Eat and Drink While Quarantined

There's no value in adding to the anxiety by stating the obvious about this moment we're living through.  Instead, a few suggestions on what to pair with your (hopefully) self-imposed isolation.

Before we get to the wines, the following simple measures have helped brighten these last, sometimes dreary days of winter:
  • Lemons: Put a bag or two of lemons in your grocery cart and use them for a jolt to your morning glass of water, the backbone of an herbed salad dressing, and a shower of sunshine squeezed liberally over your dinner.  The fresh juice will invigorate your senses and help lift your spirits.  And don't overlook the value of lemon zest as an ingredient to add some zip to your dishes.
  • Herbs: Buy a bunch each of fresh dill and mint, and use the same way you use the lemons.  Dill and mint in particular deliver a special kind of energy that'll tell your soul that spring is right around the corner.  They also make terrific companions to fresh lemon juice and liven up just about any course.  Pro tip: I can get a bunch of dill to stay fresh for a month in the fridge by washing and drying it while still bound, standing it up in a jar of water, and putting a plastic bag (zip lock or something of that size) over the whole thing like fitting a loose sock over a foot.
  • Red pepper flakes: These are typically in the domain of racy sauces, but used in moderation, they can add an eye-opening pop without burning you up.  Note: when adding to anything liquid, a little goes a long way.  Start slow and inch up.
  • Cherry tomatoes: Requiring nothing more than a quick rinse as preparation, toss a handful into whatever you're baking, and you'll have tiny bombs of joyous flavor on your plate at mealtime.  Fifteen minutes in the oven with whatever you're already cooking should soften them without bursting them open.
  • Kale crunch: Combining kale with multi-veggie slaws make for crunchy, versatile salads that force your jaw muscles back to life (a departure after winter's softer food textures) and make your digestive system happy.  My favorite cheat is to combine Trader Joe's crociferous salad mix with a bag of their broccoli/carrot slaw and dress with an Asian vinaigrette. 

Okay, so on to the wines.  These are all affordable and should be pretty easy to find from your favorite online retailer (my dominant mode of purchasing these days.)  More importantly, however, is that the common thread of these wines is that they all have terrific energy you can really taste.  If that doesn't put a smile on your face, then we'll have to check you for a pulse!

Okay, from left to right in the picture below...

2017 Montresor Bardolino Le Banche di San Lorenzo $15
This wine is so light in body and texture, it's like diving into a warm swimming pool.  But it's full of flavors that sparkle like sunlight refracted on the bottom of the pool.  At 12-ish% acohol, the sensation of drinking this wine is vastly different - and a very pleasant contrast - from rich winter reds.  Pretty sure this is a direct import from Total Wine & More, so if you can order from one nearby, that's your best bet on finding it.

2017 Ferrari Carano Fume Blanc Sonoma County $14
Tastes like really honest California sauvignon blanc that picked up some character from oak ageing.  And that's exactly what this is.  The time in barrel did nothing to suppress the wine's brilliant energy.  It's crisp with a tense grip without being serious.  Yum.

2016 Fattoria Rodano Chianti Classico $18
Recommended recently by Eric Asimov of the New York Times, the purity of this wine is extraordinary.  It's everything a Chiatni should be: expressive, fleet-footed, loaded with crunchy acidity, and as Italian as any wine could be.  Fanastic.

2016 Santi Valpolicella Ventale $12
This wine's older, bigger brother (the Solane ripasso) got some favorable press this past year, so I thought I'd give it a try.  As long as I was putting it in my shopping cart, I grabbed a bottle of this wine, it's younger, less-expensive sibling.  Now that I've had both, I think the wrong one got the press.  This valpolicella is more refined than almost any other $12 bottle I've had in years, and brims with vigorous energy without being overly tannic or boastful.  I'm odering more now from Marketview Liquor.

Friday, March 6, 2020

Australian Refinement

As health crisis fears grip the globe, it's easy to forget that many Australians are still picking up the pieces of their lives in the wake of the catastrophic fires that scorched untold acres and stunned the world.  Perhaps you're inclined to lend a helping hand through the Australian Red Cross?  Whether you are or not, another way to support those affected is by buying more of their products (which, by the way, haven't been impacted by import tariffs.)  The wine below, which is the most refined vintage I've had of this bottling, is a terrific illustration that syrah in Australia isn't limited to brutish, monolithic syrups.

2018 Two Hands Shiraz 'Angel's Share' $33
Surprisingly elegant. Though not lacking in density or muscle, there’s no flab or shouting happening in this poised wine. Purebred structure and refined fruit delivered with extraordinary balance.  Savory notes channel a cooler climate vibe, but the core is faithfully Oz. If you’re expecting an overheated/extracted raisin monster, you're going to be in for a pleasant surprise with this one. Quite delicious.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

Recycle Bin, Week of Feb 17

It's a total hodgepodge of bottles this week, including an old, old port, a new, fresh malbec/syrah, and a few other odd birds that I picked up on closeout sale.  Cheers!

2018 Domaine Bousquet Gaia Red Blend Uco Valley $20
Yowza! Dark and inky in the glass, which is no surprise given the malbec/syrah dominance of this blend, but the aromatic vibrancy is unexpected. That energy carries through to the palate where soaring, fragrant notes sit atop a balanced body framed by crunchy acidity. A big wine that manages to dance with agility.  Wow. Really pretty and easygoing. SRP is $20, but you may well find it closer to $15 in your market, which makes it a good value to boot. 

2017 Domaine de Verquière Rasteau $17
This 70/30 grenache/syrah is  a classic Rhone red showcasing its beautifully-perfumed grenache in a style that's midway between classic and modern.  Versatile and lovely without being boastful.  Well made and tough to put down.

2017 Conceito Branco 'Contraste' Douro $14
Portugal is home to some of the world's most sensational white wine values.  It's such a terrific source that one need only throw a dart (at any price point) to find a winner.  This one, however, is a bit weird.  Minerals, flint, wet rocks, and a funky fruit element make for a wine that is unlikely to be a crowd-pleaser, but one that wine geeks will spend a lot of time analyzing.

1985 Taylor Fladgate Vintage Port $?
At 35 years old, the youthfulness and grace of this wine are difficult to fathom.  It's also hard to imagine that it doesn't still have decades of good life ahead of it.  After filtering out the considerable sediment, the fruit sits poised in elegant balance with a refined structure and subdued vigor.  One more thing that's hard to wrap your mind around: you can still find bottles of this stuff out there for under $100.  Insane.
2016 Montresor Valpolicella Ripasso 'Capitel della Crosara' $17
A lot of ripassos attempt to achieve Amarone-like intensity, often missing the mark and ending up flabby and/or over-heated.  Not this one.  It's a terrific representation of a Valpolicella that leans towards savory while still expressing characterisitc, shining fruit.  All this is cloaked in lovely acidity.

2017 Bodegas Norton Malbec Reserva $13
Really nice malbec without the rough edges or sloppy winemaking that plagues so many these days.  Picked it up on sale and enjoyed with burgers - which is exactly what this wine needs.

2016 Hess Select Red Blend 'Treo' California $11
Another wine I picked up on a closeout sale.  Simple California red blend that's appealing for its simplicity, price tag, and lack of overblown extraaction/alcohol.  (Suggested retail is $19, which I would not have paid.)

2013 Nipozzano Chianti Ruffina Riserva $15
At close to six years old, this is a great lesson in both the longevity of Chianti and the value of looking beyond the Classico zone.  A terrific value that offers everything you'd want in a Chianti: food-friendly acids, moderate body, and a seamless texture.

Sunday, February 9, 2020

Valentines Day Drinking (Without Breaking The Bank)

It feels a little contrived to be pushing bubbles for Valentine's Day, but reviewing these French sparklers has been long overdue. The truth is that any day is a good day for sparkling wine, especially friendly, elegant bottles such as these.  That they are so reasonably priced - and very low in residual sugar - is a serious bonus, especially given their QPR.  Savvy drinkers will bypass the premium pricing of Champagne and instead reach for these - it'll leave more money for upgrading your flowers.

A brief postscript here...since reviewing these, I've been enjoying them over a series of evenings as a pre-dinner treat. Shoving a skinny wine cork deep into the neck and keeping the bottles refrigerated does an amazing job of retaining the effervescence, further drawing out the special feeling that bubbles delivers.  It's fun and I recommend doing the same.

NV Faire La Fête Brut Limoux $19
Bright, crisp, and refreshing, there's a lot more substance and character to this than I had expected.  Solid backbone supports a formidable mid-palate, both of which are framed by a high cheek boned poise and dancing acidity.  The only problem with it is that my glass seems to be empty very quickly.

NV Faire La Fête Brut Rosé Limoux $19
Clearly related to the platinum-colored brut, this salmon-hued version is everything its sibling is and more.  Refined, substantive, and perhaps a bit more serious in its delivery, this bone dry wine oozes sophistication without being austere or showy.