Monday, August 6, 2018

The Foolhardiness Of Vintages

It was sometime around 1997 or so and a group of us were out for dinner.  St Supery cabernet was on the wine list for a reasonable sum.  "Is it the 94 or 95?", I asked the server.  After a long and justifiable pause/stare, she said that she would check.  Doubling down on embarrassing myself, I declined the 95 and instead ordered a beer, leaving the waitress and my dining companions aghast and bemused.  I like to tell myself that all of us have histories peppered with regrettable moments like this, but maybe mine more so.  Maybe my youth isn't quite behind me yet, either.

I was both a victim and champion of the idea that vintage matters supreme.  And it does.  Sort of.  Sometimes. Well, kind of.  Though less and less the netter I've gotten to know wine. Grapes, like all agricultural products, are susceptible to the vagaries of weather.  The amount and timing of precipitation, hours of sunlight, speed of winds, enduring temperatures and temperature swings all factor into the growing conditions and contribute greatly to what comes off the vine. But that's not the ending, it's just the point when mother nature hands-off the ball to man.  

Yet vintage charts, which score regions' harvests in terms of quality and longevity in the bottle remain a focal point for many collectors.  There is tremendous hazard in this.  Not only does it create a false sense of security, but over-valuates vintage as a driving factor in quality.  Few people (including those who use vintages charts as signposts) realize that many of them are created based on observations of just a couple of handfuls of bottles that have historically been among the best in a given growing area.  To infer any kind of baseline from such an elitist data sample is foolhardy - like saying the new Subarus are great after driving your uncle's Porsche.

This reliance also causes many to overlook an entire production year simply because the chart gave the year a lower number than the prior.  And that's a shame.  Sure, if the weather is absolute crap - hail storms during harvest, for example - there's little remedy to be had in the cellar. But in most years, the weather is neither perfect nor awful in a binary sense.  And in every year, crews have to team up and make the most of what nature hands off.  If experience and sound practice are employed, even so-so years can yield terrific wines.

Case in point is one of my most memorable wines in recent years, the 2013 Domaine de Velanges Macon-Prisse Les Clos.  Though more recent vintages (especially 2014) have received greater acclaim in the Maconnaise region, this wine outshines the 2014, 15, and 16 combined.  What's more is that the vintage ratings have helped propel the price of this wine from $14 to $20.  What I wouldn't do for case of the "difficult" 2013!

The point is, unless you're trying to decide between a 2014 and 2015 first growth Bordeaux to save for your daughter's wedding, skip studying the vintage charts and instead get to know producers.  It'll taste better in the long run.


Thursday, August 2, 2018

Oh, Burg!

For many in the US, the term Chablis is synonymous with those honker boxes of Franzia your spinster aunt used to plow through with alarming enthusiasm.  But Chablis is actually a place - the place - where chardonnay first found fame.  Sitting at the north end of Burgundy, the area is cooler, producing wines of greater tension and energy.  There's little flab and plenty of acidity in these whites.  Like much of Burgundy, Chablis is often a label that carries a hefty price tag.  So, it's only at the fringes of the region where I can afford to experiment.

I recently took a flier a marked-down bottle of Chablis.  The producer was not familiar to me, and the quality of 2016 in Burgundy was also an unknown, but the reduced price ($20) seemed like a fun splurge while on vacation.  What the hell, right?

On reflection, it was perhaps the best $20 I've spent on wine in a long time.  Part of the reward was certainly in how unexpectedly delightful the wine was.  And, yes, it was balanced and brilliant and crackling with energy, but what was perhaps most appealing about this wine was the simple way in which it channeled its complexity.  There was no shouting coming from the glass, no show-boating or overt, caricature-like characteristics.  Instead, a poise and self-assured calmness that made it highly companionable. Suddenly that $20 seems like a screaming bargain.




Saturday, July 21, 2018

Wine & Aging

This blog has been around for almost a decade. Looking into the archives, there are many favorable reviews for wines that today seem like overblown, uber-concentrated caricatures of themselves. No, this post isn't another lamentation on domestic wines and the Twinkiefication of the American palate.  And, yes, climate change has something to do with wines being different than they were 10 years ago, as do style trends. But if there's any truth to the saying that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, then a decade of aging (my aging, that is, not wines') can't be discounted.

As my personal tastes gravitate away from largess and toward wines of distinctive acidity, I've wondered about the impact years of tasting wine have had on my preferences.  Or maybe it's not the continuous consumption of wine, but just the years of walking the earth. This musing lead me to find two pieces, one academic and the other journalistic. 

The first is a 1993 publication from the US National Library of Medicine at the National Institutes of Health titled 'Changes in taste and flavor in aging'.  It's full of scientific jargon, as you'd expect from any academic paper, but the layman's gist of it is that people lose their ability to detect levels of salt, sweet, and sour as we age. No big surprise. The other is a 2012 article in the New York Times that goes on to suggest that this explains why, as we age, people compensate for the loss of sensation by seeking out foods higher in salt and sugar.  Anyone who has shared a meal with an octogenarian knows that there are no big revelations here, either.

But neither of these shed any light on why one would begin to wince at wines that have more sugar, more obviousness, or more of the flavors our deteriorating taste buds have trouble identifying.  Nor do they help explain why this aversion have been replaced by a proclivity for brilliance and luminescence.

Maybe I've turned into the crotchety old guy at the end of the block who yells at kids driving past, "Turn that music down!" Or the cardigan-wearing sophisticate who condescendingly rambles on about the loveliness of overlooked nuance.

There's got to be a better explanation for this.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

2 Wines I Didn't Want To Like, But Loved Instead

It's a well-worn trail.  Family-run winery expands beyond their original footprint.  Production increases, geography of sourcing leans towards cheaper grapes, and, regrettably, quality dips.  The expansion is usually preceded by some influx of new cash or outright acquisition.  Brands like William Hill, Edna Valley, and Chateau Souverain come to mind.  Whereas once their wines were risk-free no-brainers, now they are, well, not.

The first time I visited Hess was in the mid-late 90s.  They made a few highly regarded cabs from mostly Mt Veeder fruit, along with a few other mostly-overlooked siblings.  It was a novelty of a stop on the Napa Valley tour, what with its modern art collection in an ivy-covered gallery.  But I put my hands on as much of those bottles as I could afford back then.  Today, Hess is a growing multinational wine company with brands like MacPhail, Amalaya, and Artezin in its portfolio.  And the Hess brand itself has expanded well beyond its original Mt Veeder offering, as many larger wineries do, series levels ranging from specific vineyards to the more general California AVA.

The Hess Select series is at the latter end of the spectrum, but also includes bottlings from the slightly tighter Central Coast and North Coast appellations.  So, when a couple of Hess Select samples arrived, I wondered with a bit of skepticism if they hadn't followed that well-worn path.  Prepared not to like these as I was, I kept a mind as open as my mouth and plunged in.  And am I ever glad.

Would I prefer these wines be priced a few dollars lower? Sure. But that's because I'm a cheapskate.  And that shouldn’t stop anyone from feeling confident in reaching for them.

2015 Hess Select Cabernet Sauvignon North Coast $19
Though labeled as a North Coast AVA, this Cabernet is textbook Napa from a decade or two ago. That is to say, strong backbone, terrific structure, honest fruit, and all around drinking pleasure. The fact that it is available at the grocery store makes this all the more accessible. There are many evenings when I want to reach for a Northern California Cabernet, but so much of it has become overextracted syrup. Not so with this.  Solid and impressive.

2016 Hess Select Pinot Noir North Coast $20
I looked around for cameras to be sure I was not being punked after first tasting this wine.  (I actually did.)  This wine is undeniably California, but equally undeniable is its quality and character. Prominent acidity and high toned notes of burnt orange peel and crushed sun baked flowers flutter behind your eye. Yes, it’s got some body to it, but the balance and tension (yes, tension!) drink like heady coastal vineyard fruit at triple the price. Damn!


Monday, June 25, 2018

Smiles In A Bottle: Smith-Madrone Riesling

2015 Smith-Madrone Riesling Spring Mountain Napa Valley $32

The best rieslings I’ve ever had all share a juxtaposition in common - each of their qualities, when looked examined individually, appear incongruous and disjointed as a collection. Yet in the glass they mysteriously assemble into something irresistible and enjoyable. Such is the case with this bottling made of 100% dry-farmed riesling from Napa (and you thought they just grew cab and chard there!)

This Smith-Madrone is like a bracing dip into a refreshing pool. A steely, slightly funky nose speeds into an iridescent, Granny smith-aromatic palate framed by zingy, bright, electric fruit, and crisp energy.  The acidic vigor and clean finish all add up to smiles followed by refills. Blessedly modest (12.6%) alcohol and dry, dry, dry.  Fun to drink and really darn good.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Addendum Cabernets: Even Better Than Lightning Striking Twice


While it’s a little hard to get excited about tasting big boy cabernets on a 92° day, it is an excuse to spend a little subterranean time in a quiet, cool refuge from the heat. Besides, I was delighted to see these samples arrive in advance of a virtual tasting. Last year‘s debut for this Fess Parker-launched brand was nothing short of eye-popping. Can lightning strike twice, this time for the 2015 vintage? Read on to find out.

For decades now, Napa Valley has been a revolving door of sorts. Newcomers arrive with naïve notions of winemaking stardom, not unlike young Midwesterners flocking to Los Angeles to pursue an acting career. What Napa newcomers lack in experience, they often attempt to make up for with money. Lots and lots of money. And so goes the joke: if you want to become a millionaire vintner, best to start with tens of millions.

This steady influx of financiers, Silicon Valley magnates, and other well-heeled industrialists have helped keep both property values and, therefore, grape pricing among the highest in the world. So, when the folks at Fess Parker Winery down in Santa Barbara County launched their Napa-based based brand, Addendum, last year, I wondered, “What are they thinking?"  With no land holdings in the area and leases on all the high-quality vineyards mostly spoken for, where did they think they were going to score fruit of high enough quality to differentiate them in a highly saturated market?  Well, I put that question to the winery bosses during a virtual tasting recently. Here's the gist of what they said:

Relationships are important, as are the introductions made by those we've enjoyed mutual respect with for some time, but we are also not some johnny-come-lately....we're bringing experience and professionalism to the table, which makes a difference to the growers we're talking to...and don't underestimate the ability to pay on time. Basically, it's not any one thing, but the combination of a lot of factors that have played to our advantage in getting access to these sites.

OK, that's the grape story, but what about the wines? You can revisit my impressions from the 2014 vintage here, but some categorical observations about these 2015's: First, and perhaps most importantly, these bottlings are not just a tour de force of exceptional talent in the cellar, nor are they simply evidence of careful sourcing, but a brilliant combination of both. The result is cabernets that ooze Napa Valley character, reflect winemaking craft and competence, and pack allure and excitement into the polished package. Finally - and what has me shaking my head at myself - is that these wines are worth every penny of their not inconsiderable price tags - and then some.

In my write up of their inaugural releases I wrote, "These wines will stir a carnal corner of your soul."  This statement remains so with the 2015 (and I cannot recall extolling such flattery on any California wine in year,) leading me to believe that either lightning strikes twice or winemaker Blair Fox has perfected alchemy.  These wines have been made in minuscule quantities, so don't walk, run!

2015 Addendum Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley $90
Medium density and color in the glass, but insanely perfumed with aromatics that soar with imagination. Infatuation is instant. (Remember that scene from the movie Jerry Maguire? Where she says, “you had me at hello.” This wine had me at first sniff.) The magic continues into the forepalate where elegance prevails. Dark fruit runs to a deep core framed by ultra finely integrated tannins and a balanced cigar box presence. Two thoughts immediately come to mind: first, this is a wine that has all the stuffing for improvement with cellaring. Second, who's going to have the patience? Voluptuous without being showy, and still so elegant. What a romantic pleasure to drink.

2015 Addendum Cabernet Sauvignon Stagecoach Vineyard Atlas Peak $95
More olfactory sensuality, this time with a warmer, rounder shape to the nose. Expressive and luxurious aromatics, which is exactly how it presents at first taste. A commanding monument of flavor reinforced by mouth-coating tannins and a structure that exudes refinement. Less flowery, but more serious than the Napa Valley bottling. Some wines beg for a good steak, but a good steak will beg for this wine.

2015 Addendum Cabernet Sauvignon Skellenger Lane Vineyard Rutherford  $95
Alluring, spicy aromatics give way to a massive, intense, powerful, and coiled block wall of black fruit and oak framing.  Rigidly structured and tight right now. Not as immediately approachable as the other two wines in this lineup, but I would love to meet this one again in 10 years.

Monday, June 11, 2018

The 3 Toros of Matsu

Three wines arrived as samples last month, each with a cool, modern label baring an up-close photo of a farm-hardened man.  Though the men on the bottles are different (perhaps three generations from the same lineage?), I was expecting the wines to taste more or less the same.  After all, all are made from the same vintage, by the same winemaker, and of 100% Tinta de Toro (as tempranillo is known in the part of north-central Spain where these are from.)  There's also the issue of homogenization, or the miserable trend towards sameness that is lamentably not isolated to wines made the US - too many Spanish wines are suffering under the international, over-oaked influence.

But I was in for a surprise. Though they certainly share a common heritage and flavor thumbprint, each of these presents with its own unique qualities. I tasted them in completely random order, and ended up saving the best for last. (No exaggeration on that note: find some of that!)  Categorically, you can expect to find strength and poise in all of these wines.  There's a tightness to them that suggests patience and cellaring will be rewarded, but there's also enough spatiality in them to let the aromatic luminescence shine through.

2015 Matsu Tinta de Toro 'Picaro' $14
Still quite closed and coy, but showing the necessary ingredients for finesse after it has a chance to mature and open: mid-weight with a tight, dense core framed by aromatic, bright flowers and herbs, and finishing with chalky tannins. Much more nuanced and quite different from the often blunt wines from this region. Excellent food wine.

2015 Matsu Tinta de Toro 'Viejo' $47
Inky as it flows from the bottle and intense, dusty black fruit on the nose. Big tannins coat the hidden, but strong fruit core. Wow. Something of a tightly wound powerhouse when first opened, yet very approachable. Despite its brawn, it’s polished and well-made. Think ropa vieja or grilled meat with fried olives. 

2015 Matsu Tinta de Toro 'Vecio' $22
Beautiful ultraviolet nose with just a whiff of savory on the fringes. But just wait until you taste this. Wow. Such poise, elegance, balance, and craft. Each of the components of this wine speak of individual character that combined make up a wonderful, layered, complex beauty. Seamlessly stitched without a drop out of place. Very refined and extremely well done. Wow!  Finishes long, with enough fine tannins to suggest improvement with mid-term cellaring. Did I say wow? I’ll say it again.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

A Whole Lot Of Goodies

Forgive for the time between installment here, but there's just been so much great wine to examine, assess, and consume with glutenous abandon that I've neglected to return to chronicle the debauchery.  With that an an apology, there are some terrific and unusual discoveries in store for you today.  From a palomino-dominated domestic blend (no, not the horse!) to an amazingly honest bragain French grenach, there's something for everyone in this batch.  But we'll start with a remembrance and celebration of life.  Enjoy!

2017 Rombauer Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley $24
Koerner Rombauer, who founded this winery in the pioneering days of Napa Valley, passed away earlier this month.  A pilot with a love of wine, his was a full, adventurous life.  What better way to honor his legacy than cracking open a bottle of this joyful, fresh wine on the porch this summer?  Energy bursts from the glass in abundance, signalling a permission for spontaneity and serendipity that tends to thrive in warmer weather.  Very high-quality while remaining true to the Northern California sauvignon blanc style - fresh cut grass, salivary-gland-inducing Granny Smith, and bracing acidity. This wine makes me so happy!




2013 Lopez de Haro Rioja Reserva $17
Old school honesty meets new world racy. Everything you want in a Rioja - clean, round tempranillo fruit shining through bright, food-friendly acids, and a juicy squirt of vibrancy to plumb it all out. Best part? Mercifully lacking in the oak-bludgeoning regimen and high alcohol now typical in this region. Most enjoyable Rioja I’ve had in a long, long time.  Amazing value, too!




2016 Le Paradou Grenache France $9
I know nothing about the background of this wine - where in France it's from, its lineage, how it was farmed or harvested, etc.  Yet that doesn't interfere one iota with my enjoyment of it. Here's a simple wine that  actually tastes like grenache, over-delivering at this price point by a country mile. Straightforward, but with a nice acidic crunch that finishes clean and beckons you back for more. Available from Marketview Liquor online.




2016 Farmhouse Red California $11
I saw a big stack of these wines at a local grocery store recently and was pleased to find them in such prominent distribution, no doubt due to this venture being propelled by well established Cline Cellars. The concept of this particular brand is natural wind me again. The back label suggests that biodynamics are at the forefront of their vineyard practices - an admirable endeavor that absolutely has an impact in the bottled result   The red is rich and inky as it splashes into the glass, settling into a deep garnet. Initial aromatics suggest fresh, young black and red fruits. The palate offers more of the same, plus a generous dose of sweet vanilla oak and even a dollop of tannic structure. Good for summer holiday barbecue fare and pleasing a crowd of neighbors

2017 Farmhouse White California $11
Almost watery in appearance, but don't be fooled. Generous on the nose with sweet, ripe white flowers that continue into the mid palate where a surprisingly taut acidity awaits. Drier than the nose channels with notes of (riesling?) subtle petrol characteristics. Cerebral, but accessible. Tastes a bit like a kitchen sink blend you might find in Alsace. A little something for everyone here - especially the price. Turns out it's the 44% palomino that's channeling that interest (just 1% reisling.) Bravo.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Spanish Refreshers In Time For Porch Season

As we head (finally!) into porch season, having some fresh new whites to beat the heat with is never a bad idea, and this foursome of samples from Spain arrived just in time.  A couple are the usual suspects, but the rose and (especially) sherry were unexpected.  Of these wines, the sherry was the one I found myself returning to again and again.  It's an acquired taste, but one that really gets its hooks into you.  Enjoy!



2017 Beronia Rueda $13
Brilliant. Exuberant aromatics are positively electric and carry through to the palate where lovers of bright sauvignon blanc will rejoice. It’s all here: citrusy/floral fruit, appealing acidic bite, and thirst quenching refreshment. Can you say porch season??? 

Pazo de Lusco Albariño Rias Baixas $25
Textbook. Honeysuckle aromas on the nose followed by green apple and citrus on the palate. Perhaps a bit more weighty than the average albariño, despite the slightly effervescent texture.

2017 Beronia Rioja Rose $13
Clean, flinty nose hints at what’s to come: dry, dry, dry, crisp, and with a snap of acidity on the finish. Not at all fruit forward or sweet, rather linear and precise. Great companion for summer fare.  Unique.

NV Tio Pepe Palomino Fino Sherry $20
For the unindoctrinated (like me) one should not expect Sherry to resemble, or be a benchmark for, wine. I have much to learn about fine Sherry and Palomino Fino is as good place to start as any. The nose is decidedly nutty and clean with elements of almost metallic hard minerals. The palate is light, clean, and bone, bone dry conveying essentially zero fruit. Instead, it’s charms come from its palate-cleansing qualities that border on savory and whet the appetite. Once you abandon the idea that this is a white wine gone horribly wrong, lingering with it becomes a companionable pleasure. Is it any coincidence that I’m hankering for a few slivers of Serrano and a block of Manchego? This could be the new house pre-dinner porch refresher. 

Monday, April 23, 2018

(NOT) Coming To A Doorstep Near You

In the wrap up of 2017, internet consumers were listed among the losers in the year ahead.  In an age when diet-specific meals can be delivered to your door same day and laundry detergent can be re-ordered by pressing a button on the dispenser, state legislatures are taking a giant step backwards by outlawing wine ordered on the internet.

In fairness, while the spirit of that statement is true, it's not technically accurate.  Laws affecting wine are state-specific, so there are a number of different flavors or frameworks out there.  And laws affecting wine commerce are also often different from those governing beer and liquor.  Then there's the issue of where or who the wine is coming from as shipments from wineries (known as DTC or direct to consumer) are often treated differently from wine shipped by a retailer.  It can get complicated quickly.

Most alcohol laws have been on the books for decades, some even for centuries.  But laws are one thing, enforcement is another - and this is what's really changing, and changing right now.  Traditionally, the enforcement wings of states' alcohol bureaus have been undermanned, underfunded, and focused solely on the issues likely to get a bureaucrat in hot water, like underage drinking.  Well, thanks primarily to the efforts of the Wine and Beer Wholesalers Association, states are issuing cease-and-desists to major wine e-commerce retailers and requiring carriers like UPS and FedEx to report shipments from wineries and retailers.  This has been a long time coming, but (at least in Ohio), it's here.

This morning I attempted to order wine from a retailer in another state that I have done a lot of business with in years past.  They have a terrific portfolio of wines that are not available in my state, their prices are darn good, and their customer service is relentlessly affable.  My attempt to order was rebuffed with a simple message: "Please change your shipping address to a state we may ship to."  I emailed to inquire.  An excerpt of the reply follows.
Due to recent regulation changes, we are not be able to ship to your state at this time.  We encourage you to write your state legislatures and inform them you want free, open, access to the wine market.  We’ve made this very easy here: https://account.votility.com/enterprise/NAWR/ec/401     

Please know this change is not specific to us.  Very soon, you will see this restriction across all of your favorite wine retailers around the country.  You may read more here: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/23/dining/drinks/interstate-wine-sales-shipping-laws.htm

Whether this is an extension of the age of protectionism or the symptoms of an industry trying desperately to resist innovation, the effects will no doubt result in a fresh wave of legal challenges.  Stay tuned for that.  In the meantime, I suppose we should all shop local?

Thursday, April 19, 2018

Rico Soave Batting 1000

The wine world is full of elusive unicorns: drinkable pinot noir for under $20...California chardonnay that doesn't clobber you with oak and alcohol...domestic reds that go well with food...

Another unicorn is a sure thing.  Whether a producer, grape, region, method, style, there are very few corners in the market that you can experiment in without feeling like your hard-earned money is at risk of being wasted, or at least under-utilized.  The search for these sure things is what makes loving wine - and writing about it - fun.  The companion experiences of hunt and discovery can be at times disappointing, but such luxurious pursuits surely beat a day at the office.

People who want a shortcut to a sure thing often ask what my "go-to" wine is.  The truth is that it changes, not just because of vintage variation, but because tastes change from season to season, and as we age.  But from time to time I have a ready answer to that question.  Today, it's Soave Classico.

The Soave of my adolescence was insipid plonk my parents only occasionally had the courtesy of refrigerating.  So rancid, it could only be choked down when mixed with Sprite.  But Italian winemaking (and availability of product) has come a long way in the decades since.  A couple of years ago I rediscovered Soave (Soave Classico specifically) at a simple lunch in Florence.  Since that day, I haven't had a bad bottle - and it hasn't been for lack of exploration.  Nor have I spent more than $16.

The term Soave is given to dry white wine from the Veneto region of Italy made primarily (if not entirely, of the garganega grape. Classico is a subzone of the broader Soave region characterized by hillside vineyards surrounding Verona. (Similarly, Chianti also had a Classico subzone, or DOC - Italy's counterpart to the US' AVA.)

What does it taste like? White flowers over ripe pear, apple, and lemon, framed by minerality and luminescence.  Not enough to get your off the couch?  What really sets it apart is the texture: supple and beckoning, its simplicity has an irresistible allure; a come-hitherness.  This I have found in just about every Soave Classico I've had.  Very few wine styles, grapes, regions, or producers bat anywhere north of .500, especially at reasonable prices.  The 2016 Suavia Soave Classico pictured below will set you back a mere $13.

So, as we lurch into porch season, this discovery is worth sharing - and seeking out.  Enjoy!


Monday, March 19, 2018

Recycle Bin, Week of March 19

It's been a blissful season of wine drinking, having made some terrific discoveries at the intersection of high enjoyment and low price.  Experiences like these don't come along too often, so when they do, I make it a point to stock up.  Not surprisingly, these are

Also included in this lineup is one more from Markus Niggli, whose new line of Markus red wines were reviewed recently.

2015 Tenuta Regaleali Tasca Bianco Sicily $10
Magnificent! Minerals and a luxurious texture characterize this elegant white that gives and gives.  Not too rich, but not too shy, either.  This is my new favorite wine.  It makes me happy.  Kitchen sink blend of inzolia (47%), grecanico (22%), catarratto (25%), chardonnay (6%)

2015 Podere Scopetone Sangiovese Montalcino $15
Talk about purity! Unblemished by oak or any other interference, the brilliance of this gorgeous red shines through with honesty.  Made of 100% sangiovese grosso (same variety that goes into Brunello) and fermented in stainless steel, the expressive acidity make for an exciting wine.  Hard to go back to drinking Chianti after trying this bargain.

2015 Tenuta Santa Maria Soave Lepia $14
Bordering on opulent, this full-bodied Soave oozes elegance and charm.  Made of the garganega grape, this white offers up white flower blossom aromatics and a lovely, full mouth feel.  An eye-opener for those whose reference points for Soave are watered-down, insipid wines.
2015 Markus Carignane Domo Lodi $39
While at the higher end of the price spectrum, this is a most unusual specimen. Lovely and with a backbone, its luminous garnet shimmer is with perfumed aromatics wafting beyond the rim. Kaleidoscope of flickering flavors wrapped in high frequency spices play across a solid structure that sits in the foreground. Bright and beaming and complex. Wow.