Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Drinking Joy From An Unexpected Source

Santa Barbara county has become nearly synonymous with pinot noir, and that's not without good reason. The climate lends itself to the variety's want for cool nights and large diurnal swings, and the red grape vineyards have been dominated by pinot since my first trip to the area in the mid 1990s.  Then, of course, Sideways came along in 2004, catapulting the region into tourist-choked fame, and, along with it, the prices of many better pinot noirs into the stratosphere.

Around the same time I was making my first pilgrimage to Santa Barbara wine country, Joel Gott was bottling his first wines. Since then, the brand has grown by leaps and bounds (thanks in large part to its acquisition by TFE), becoming ubiquitous on restaurant wine lists.  The wines tend to be robust in density and flavor, and characteristically Californian.  In other words, little in the way of subtleties and almost certain to garner attention.  That said, I don't think I've ever had a bad wine from them, and have had several that I like just fine.  They're usually priced a few dollars higher than the experience ought to command, which means generally more reasonable than the bulk of California wines today.  But then this wine caught my eye.  It was on sale for a mere $14, so I gave it a spin.

2015 Joel Gott Pinor Noir Santa Barbara $20
The full package: fresh violet aromatics, seamless texture, fantastic fruit, and even some elegant acidity.  It actually tastes like pinot noir, and actually tastes like it's from Santa Barbara county.  With a few years on it now, whatever boisterousness it may have had in its adolescence is giving way to poise. Labeled as 13.6% ABV, and tastes like it, too.  Remarkable.  I'm shocked by how true this wine is.  Which is why I turned right around and picked up a case of it.

Monday, January 13, 2020

In Defense of Big Box Retailers

For many years the standard-bearer wine retailer in my hometown market was a sprawling place that, as its name indicated, sold everything from lumber to feed to work boots and, yes, wine.  The selection was broad and deep, with thousands of bottles ranging from pedestrian to precious, and everything in between.  The staff was attentive and knowledgeable.  With selection and service aplenty, it was everything a wine lover could hope for.

Alas, it did not last forever, and they closed their doors for reasons having nothing to do with their wine department.  As a result, a multi-million dollar void was left in the market.  If some saw it as an opportunity, they did little to capitalize on it.  That was at the end of 2016.

Today, the local market can be broadly split between grocery stores and small independents, each with their own domains: Grocery stores, awash in homogeneity, while the independents – of which there are fewer every year – differentiate by offering more international selections and smaller producers. In between is a chasm that remains unfilled.

As wine offerings at grocery stores have grown in square footage, they have also narrowed in their diversity, the selection of which is often delegated to a (very) short list of vendors.  (That's right, their vendors decide what goes on the shelf.)  Consequently, I just don’t buy much wine at the grocery store.

But it’s also becoming harder to patronize smaller independents.  (This was also explained in my challenging search for affordable wines this summer.)  As they struggle to grab margins, average bottle prices at most has increased, and value picks have shrunk dramatically.  This was driven home on a recent trip to a place where I’m known by name and have shopped for over a decade.  When I asked for some everyday drinking recommendations, three were offered in response: a $24 rose, a $27 rosso, and a $20 white. 

Maybe I’m a cheap skate, but it felt to me like the store owner and I were speaking different languages.  At a minimum, our ideas of “everyday” price points are far apart, and the experience left me feeling somehow inadequate.

That visit also stands in sharp contrast to two others I had while wandering through large chain retailers in a different state.  Both stores were massive, with dozens of employees scurrying around helping customers.  Shelves were stocked with something for everyone, from all corners of the world, and at every price point; there were many thousands of bottles.  With so many people, they have specialists for just about everything,and they don't get paid on commission, so they’re just as happy to point you towards a good value as anything else.  One of the stores even had a tasting bar with hundreds of bottles of liquor available for try-before-you-buy tasting.  I was giddy.

As much as a champion as I am of small, local businesses, the experiences in these two big-box stores was head and shoulders above anything available in my home market.  It was like shopping on the internet, but better.  Way better.  The things that made for such quality experiences - selection, service, availability, etc. - are almost by definition impossible to achieve without reaching a certain scale. And the absence of pressure and judgement,well, that's just a bonus.

As the new year gets under way, it’s a good time to reflect on habits we’d like to change.  Where I get wine is a relatively inconsequential thing, but one that might yield a little less frustration and a little more discovery.  Besides, there are plenty of other ways to support local businesses.

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Pecorino...Wine?

We're all familiar with pecorino cheese, but pecorino wine? Well, it turns out that pecorino is also an Italian grape, once thought to be extinct, but (thankfully) brought back by contemporary farmers who rediscovered after genotyping a vineyard and finding some surviving vines. Quite by happenstance, I enjoyed some with a meal in Bologna earlier this year - it was available by the glass at a casual joint.  And, again by happenstance, I came across a bottle of it on a store shelf in Lexington, Kentucky, of all places.  Definitely a change of pace - and a fun one at that.  I'll be searching for more of this, and you should, too.

2018 Saldini e Pilastri Pecorino Offida $10
Made from organically-grown grapes from the Offida region on the Adriatic, this mouthful of a wine is round and plump like new world chardonnay, but flavored like a bowl full of gorgeous white flowers and minerality. Multi-dimensional and very versatile, this can be enjoyed on its own or with mid-weight fare.  That it's just ten dollars is a marvel and a gift.


Friday, December 27, 2019

Smith-Madrone: What I'm Drinking For New Year's

I've had the pleasure of reviewing several samples from Smith-Madrone over the past few years and they've always brought a smile to my face.  (Read here, here, and here.)  Though my palate has begun to favor wines of greater subtlety and acidic grace, every now and again, a special occasion calls for something, well, special.

Smith-Madrone's wines are far from subtle, but they are made with such precision that the Napa Valley/Spring Mountain heft they bring to the table is all in balance.  These qualities make for a risk-free proposition - everyone around the table will be impressed and pleased.  Specifics on these wines will follow in the new year, but if you're looking for options that combines power and poise, these could be just the ticket.

May your holidays be merry and bright!

Thursday, December 19, 2019

The 2 Minute Cork/Christmas Tree Water Level Hack

Fair warning: this has nothing to do with drinking wine unless you decide to drink wine while reading or implementing this handy hack. Which you'll want to if you've ever faced the perennial challenge of determining whether your Christmas tree needs more water or not.
 

It would be super handy if tree stands had a transparent strip running vertically up the side so you could see how much water is in there. But they don't.  And it turns out Christmas trees drink a lot of water - a LOT (ours is consuming around 1.5 liters a day.) But if you go blindly pouring water into the stand, you run the risk of overflowing the damn thing - a profanity-inducing mistake that you'll only make once, and one that could cause you to just let the fucking thing dry out and shed its needles all over the place.

(Am I projecting too much?)

Anyway, so, how do know how much water is in your tree stand?  This 2 minute fix can be fashioned out of household items and will help you keep your tree healthier and more fragrant.

Supplies List:
  • String
  • Cork
  • Paper clip
  • Knife
  • Tape measure

Construction:
  1. Stick the end of a tape measure all the way into the bottom of your tree stand to measure the total water-holding depth.
  2. Using a sharp knife, score the cork right around the middle like a belt line. A safe and easy way to do this is to put the cork on a counter, line the knife perpendicular to the cork, the simultaneously apply pressure and roll the cork like a log until you've gone all the way around.
  3. Tie one end of a 24-ish inch length of string around the cork and cinch it into the groove you just cut.
  4. Tie a knot around the elbow in a paper clip 2 inches shorter than the depth you measured in step 1.  (If your tree stand is 8 inches deep, put the paper clip 6 inches from the cork.)
Use:
  1. Drop the cork into the tree stand, allowing it to drop only as far as the paper clip hits the rim of the stand.  
  2. Pull it up.  If it's dry, you'd better water.  
  3. Put the cork back into the stand and water using a recycled wine bottle (less spillage, easier control, and less tilt required.) a
  4. Stop watering as soon as you see the cork approaching the rim.
  5. Use the paper clip to hook your string and cork assembly like a weird ornament on your tree.


Monday, December 16, 2019

Most Exciting Wines of 2019

This is definitely not a listing of the best wines I've had this year (whatever best means,) but is a sampling of the wines that stayed with me long past when I drank them.  In case you're looking to compare notes, some are easily available while others next to impossible to find.  What excites me is purely subjective, so your mileage may vary with these, but I'm certain that none of these would disappoint you.  Write-ups on each can be found at the links below.  Cheers!

Buglioni lo Spudorato
No other wine I've had in 2019 has haunted me as much as this has. Made from the same grapes used for Soave, this sparkling wine bears no pedigree, pretentiousness, or hefty price tag. What's exciting about it? It's an after work spumante for everyday drinking, absolutely luminescent and gulpable, and very inexpensive.  Alas, I have not found it anywhere in the US (yet.)  However, many of the winery's other wines - all of which are fantastic, are widely available in the US. Review here.

Russiz Superiore Sauvignon
From the outer reaches of Italy comes this wild surprise.  Laser focused and tantalizingly pure, this is an exciting wine not just for its energy, but because the winery is in an area few people even know exists.  And it's available at the grocery store right down the street from me.  Review here.

Nivia
Following closely behind the Buglioni lo Spudorato in terms of day dreaming material, this shocker of a gem from the tippy-top of Spain made me weak in the knees. Made by the small Mas Llunes winery in an area better known for reds, this sultry white delivers a shimmering kaleidoscope of flavors and textures.  Every time I taste a delicious wine from either an unknown region or a region better known for growing something else, it reminds me that the shadows is where all the great discoveries await.  And that's exciting.  Unfortunately, this one is also not yet imported into the US. Review and details here. 

Zoe
Greek wine is becoming more common in better retailers, and why wouldn't it be?  Relatively inexpensive, chock full of bright, sun-filled flavors, and blissfully devoid of oak bludgeoning, the wines of Greece are a playground for experimentation. Anytime I come across a winegrowing area with a better than 50% yum rate I get excited. Review here.

Pra Valpolicella Morandina
I've tried to explain this wine to people, but mostly get blank stares in reply.  Several shades lighter than a pinot noir and just 12.5% ABV, you might expect it to be insipid and watery.  Au contraire, mon frere. This Italian red is among the most exciting wines I've had this year because of its laser focus, brilliant flavors, crackling acidity, soft-voiced honesty, and light weight density. A few sips will have you thinking you can drink the whole bottle. Not cheap, but a smashing value considering the experience - and it's fairly available.  Review here.

Yiron Israeli Red
Good wine is being made in increasingly unexpected places, like Israel.  This Bordeaux blend is just one of the many Israeli wines I've enjoyed this year, but is on this list thanks to its sophistication and profundity. Often times I'll taste a wine from an oddball region and think, "Not bad for a wine from Michigan" (or wherever.) But truly exciting wines, such as this one, require no qualification, and could easily hold its own in the company of California wines twice the price.  Review here.

Paradou Grenache 
This simple, inexpensive French red is noteworthy because, despite recent tariffs, it remains available a under $10. I've reached for a bottle of this wine several times to go with a weeknight meal when I'm looking for an uncomplicated accompaniment.  And each time I do, I'm rewarded by an unexpected treat. That we can still find respectable, well made wine at this price is exciting.  Review here.

Peju's Reds
I was reintroduced to this Napa winery's reds by a PR rep whom I've come to really enjoy. She rolls with it good-naturedly when I tell her a winemaker still has some development ahead of them or when I'm likely to have a hard time swallowing some of her clients' insane price tags, so it's nice for both of us when I have flattering things to say about a Napa Valley winery, as was the case with Peju.  Nothing is inexpensive in Napa, but Peju's wines, which are really fantastic (the cab franc in particular,) are a relative bargain.  Reviews here.

Prosecco
Wait, what? Yes, really, prosecco. While the vast majority of the stuff is as special as a trip to Sears, there are pockets of brilliance in this ocean of sparkling wine. Thankfully, they are easily identifiable, too. The prosecco DOC area is huge, but the smaller subzone of Conegliano Valdobbiadene Prosecco Superiore, which sits about 50 miles north of Venice, makes a much better product for not a lot more money. And if you're willing to search (and spend) a bit more, the sub-subzone of Cartizze might be of interest.  But if you want a short-cut to experimenting with next level bubbles, just look for any bottle with the word "Valdobbiadene" in the sparkling section of your favorite retailer.  $20 buys a lot in this category.

Other Random Beverages:

Good Red Vermouth
The herbal character of a good red vermouth, combined with a splash of seltzer makes for a refreshing alternative as a pre-dinner palate-cleanser.  I've enjoyed the reactions of guests whom I've served this to.  A well-made vermouth will set you back $25, but last you months in the fridge.

Grappa
My first introduction to this liquor made from pommace (discardings from the winemaking process such as skins, seeds, and stems) left me with the distinct impression that I had just been subjected to a formaldehyde experiment.  I'm glad I gave it another go, because the unique pleasure of a fine grappa - especially a barrel-aged riserva - is an unbeatable way to cap off an evening.

Mezcal
Most people have nightmares about this Mexican spirit, some of which probably include worms.  And though my first exposure to mezcal came with a warning, like grappa, I learned that there is a whole different ballgame in the añejo (barrel-aged) category.  Expensive, for sure, but the savory/sweet/saline dimensions good tequilas and mezcal añejos can take on are eye-popping.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Unexpectedly Good

I'm working on a year end batch of recommendations, but in the meantime, a little something unexpected. Not exactly what you might think to reach for as winter weather descends upon much of the country, but this sample recently met a corkscrew and drinking enjoyment ensued. 

2018 Terlato Pinot Grigio Friuli Colli Orientali $20
Though on the pricey side for pinot grigio, this is quite good indeed! Clean, well-made, and steely, the clean profile hints at mountain-grown fruit. The acidity is balance by subdued, food-friendly fruit, making for a terrifically-balanced and poised final product. Certainly the best vintage of this wine I have yet to sample.

Friday, November 22, 2019

Recycle Bin, Week of November 18

As the weather turns in much of the country, we're covering some bolder, richer wines to accompany cuisine as it changes with the seasons.  (Note that these are not Thanksiving recommendations - for those see the last post - but winter weather suggestions.) We've got robust chardonnay, luxe cabernet, a couple of legit Israeli wines, among others.  Cheers!

2017 Hess Collection Napa Valley Chardonnay $22
Unexpectedly and blessedly devoid of flab and excess, this clean, well-made chard is rich and round nonetheless. Warming tones of vanilla and oak frame the acidity-outlines fruit core. Plenty of Northern California Chardonnay character here with out any of the baggage. Pretty.

2017 Hess Collection Allomi Cabernet Sauvignon $32
As good as it was to start, it just got better and better. deep purple color wafting with
mocha-cedar aromatics suggest a cashmere sweater awaits. And it does. The open texture of this wine’s fabric allows the big fruit to unfold languorously, though there’s plenty of sturdy oak framing here to keep everything in line. Perfect wine to curl up with in front of the fireplace over the holidays. Mmmmmmm. Very friendly indeed. 

2017 Ferraton Pere & Fils “La Matinière” Crozes-Hermitages $26
Textbook Crozes and absolutely irresistible (especially after 4 hours decanted.) Black olive runs through the savory profile of this clean, youthful Syrah. crunchy deliciousness emerges with air that streams a river of drinking pleasure. Damn!

2018 Silverado Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc Miller Ranch Napa Valley$25
Very balanced and enjoyable, with right down the middle fruit framed by proportional acidity. On the citrus side of the spectrum but still showing hints of fresh grass and Grannysmith.  Subdued by modern standards, which isn’t a bad thing as many sauvignon blancs seem to be striving for so much grapefruit they end up astringent.

2018 Silverado Vineyards Sangiovese Rosato Napa Valley $25
An unusual one, showing real sangiovese character in a bright pink, fuzzy sweater.  

2018 Carmel Collection Shiraz Israel $15
Legit. Warm, exotic aromas give way to a supple texture and a broad spectrum of flavors. Faithful to the variety’s character in its darkness, but edged by bright Mediterranean notes and wrapped in a subtle caramel shawl. These contrasts are cohesively integrated into a pleasurable, balanced wine. Good value, too.

2018 Carmel Collection Cabernet Sauvignon Israel $15
Another terrific value from this winery, the cabernet shares a lot in common with its shiraz sibling: true varietal character detailed by Mediterranean influences (fresh herbs and pretty crushed violets), but it also delivers plenty of easy drinking in a blessedly mid-weight package. Unfolds expansively as it breathes. And, as it turns out, quite a crowd pleaser.


Monday, November 18, 2019

A Decade of Thankgiving Advice in 3 Easy Bullets

Eric Asimov's recent piece on Thanksgiving wine selection offers sage words of wisdom for those beginning to fret over what to bring to the table.  A lot of what he has to say sounds familiar, so I went back in time to pluck the most enduring nuggets from ten year's worth of Thanksgiving articles on this blog.

Before we get there, one really great piece of advice Mr. Asimov offers that I hadn't previously considered is to keep it light - in alcohol, that is.  Turkey day is a marathon, not a sprint, so big, heavy-handed wines will just kill your momentum early.  Nap time is part of the tradition, but, please, not in the middle of mealtime!

Adding a low alcohol requirement to your selections (unfortunately) collides with another parameter I have tried to uphold for years: "Thanksgiving is a quintessentially American holiday, so keep your beverages domestic."  Just this past weekend I opened a 100% grenache from northern California.  Boozy and overpowering, its 15.7% ABV is emblematic of what has become the norm for way too many domestic wines.  If you can find flavorful American wines under 13%, then grab them, for sure.  But that is a bit of a unicorn hunt anymore.  I'm undecided on whether to prioritize domesticity or moderacy quite yet, but I've included a few ideas on lighter alcohol wines below.

First, 3 of the best pieces of advice that have appeared here over the past 10 years in order of increasing relevance:
  1. Keep it frugal. That doesn’t mean you should buy cheap stuff, it means don’t spend a lot. 
  2. 'Shock and awe' is a military doctrine.  Unless you want your Thanksgiving guests to feel like Norman Schwarzkopf is carving the bird, tone down the tour de force on bottle selection.  A couple of choices are fun.  More is confusing.  And even more is overwhelming
  3. Don't overthink the beverage choice so that there’s plenty of mind space free to exercise gratitude. The wine will do it’s job as a social lubricant and accompaniment to the meal whether you fawn on it or not. Instead, perhaps consider lavishing a compliment on someone for their qualities rather than their accomplishments.
Okay, now for some ideas on flavorful, lower alcohol wines:
  • Vinho Verde: These two words have become synonymous with cheap Portuguese wines that come in tall, skinny bottles.  But Vinho Verde is actually the name of a region in Portugal where many other wines are made.  You might need to ask around or order some online, but there are some higher end albarino-based whites from the area that might set you back $15 and blow your mind.
  • Pinot Grigio: Say what? Country club luncheon wine?  Like Vinho Verde, it's easy to throw the baby out with the bath water, but there is some gorgeous, energetic PG being made in high altitude vineyards in Italy and France.  Look for Italian bottlings from Sudtirol/Alto Adige, or Alsatian bottlings labeled as pinot gris.
  • Valpolicella: Few wines get me as excited as good Valpo does these days. Made predominately from corvina and more commonly found in Ripasso and Amarone bottlings (which are good, but not for Thanksgiving), the normally-vinted Valopolicellas can deliver extraordinary, saline-laced luminescence in a fleet-footed package. Pra and Mazi are two names to seek out.
  • Bardolino: For all the same reasons as Valpolicella, but Bardolino is even lighter.  If you go to the top of the quality pile you may spend $17 on a bottle you'll find hard not to gulp down like ice water on a hot summer day.
  • Schiava/Vernatsch: Also from the Dolomites area, this light-bodied red can pack a lot of energy and food-friendly acidity into a 12.5% wine that makes me smile from ear to ear.
  • Cru Beaujolais: No, not beajolais nouveau, but bojo from any of the 10 cru subregions are options where the freshness-packed gamay grape achives terrific heights. These wines are sommeliers' faves thanks to their vibrant fruit, quenching acidity, and good value.

Friday, November 1, 2019

Peju: Current Releases


Just shy of ten years ago I was poured a glass of Peju Province's cabernet franc at a fancy dinner in St. Helena. The line up of wines (click on the image to view) at the dinner was like an A list of Napa Valley celebrities, but apparently only two of the wines deserved notation, and Peju's cabernet franc (2006) was one of them.  Later that same week I attended a trade tasting/party at the welcoming estate where I had another go at the same wine.  Looking back at my notes from that week, it's clear it made an impression on me.

In the intervening decade, I've not had the opportunity to revisit Peju's wines.  They're expensive, as are most Napa Valley wines these days, and mostly out of reach for my budget.  Still, when these samples arrived I was curious if lightning would strike twice with that cab franc.  Read on to find out.

Located in Rutherford, Peju is a family-run, organic winery making honest, terroir-driven (mostly) red wines with a certain iron-fist-in-a-velvet-glove theme running through them. That said, unlike so many Napa reds, these are categorically approachable and, as is the case particularly with the blends, ridiculously lush, and open textured. This only adds to their appeal.  While expensive, they are no more so than their neighbors' wines, are well-made, and register far higher on the pleasure scale than many. Following are my notes on these wines in no particular order.

2015 Peju Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley $60
Bright presentation of high-flying spice notes wrapped around a core of surprisingly agile cabernet character. Still just a baby, even at four years old, though approachable nonetheless. 

2013 Peju Cabernet Franc 'Petit Trois' Napa Valley $75
An absolute joy to drink, and not just because it says so on the back label. Dark fruit that occupies the triangle between mysterious, lush, and luxurious is structured by spicy oak notes and a balanced acidity that acts like a homing beacon, and keeps you coming back involuntarily. All of this is delivered in an incredibly relaxed manner, owed in part to its age (six years), but this sort of approachability doesn’t happen by accident. Such a luxurious experience and not a drop out of place. 

2015 Peju 'The Farm' Napa Valley $80
Opulent yet remarkably affable. The luxurious nose gives way to a plush palate where gritty, dusty tannins shape voluptuous, dark fruit. Harmony in the glass. Gob smacking and delicious with a finish that you might want a cigarette for.  A complete package.8-0% cabernet with 20% sangiovese.

2016 Peju Merlot Napa Valley $48
You'll fall in love with this wine without tasting it, that’s how wonderful the robust nose is. The sentiment carries through the tannin-forward palate that grips your salivary glands (and heart) with seductive force. Authentic merlot made in an honest Napa profile. Yum.

2016 Peju Cabernet Sauvignon 'The Experiment' Napa Valley $100
Whoa! The blue tinted color says cabernet and the high cheek-boned aromatics say classy. This is textbook high-end Napa cab, replete with tightly integrated tannins, massive, yet elegant black fruit, and a finish that won’t let your attention wander. French oak framing adds to the poise and refinement, but make no mistake, this is anything but reserved. Proud, confident, and serious without being gregarious. It's also kind of a neat concept, which you can read about here.



Monday, October 28, 2019

A Haunting, Beguiling White

This wine has been haunting me since I first tasted it a month ago at the Catalonia tasting, where the producer was gracious enough to part with her last bottle.  (Gracias, Gemma!) Since then it's been beckoning me from the fridge, tempting me to revisit it and see if lightning strikes twice.

White grenache is not your everyday white wine grape, at least not in the US, but it has had a firm grasp on my heart since I first fell for Andrew Murray's whites a dozen years ago or more.  Like its red sibling, white grenache projects the place from whence it came in technicolor.  There's an honesty to the grape that, while pure, also offers no hiding for a winemaker's shortcomings.  In other words, when it's good, it's great. This is one of those wines.

Mas Llunes is a small, family-run operation in the Emporda region of Catalonia. Tucked about as far up in the upper right corner of Spain as you can get, the winery's home town of Garriguella is a scant ten or so miles from the French border and even closer to the Mediterranean coast. Here, Gemma and her father run the family wine business which has roots dating back to the 14th century. They practice modern winemaking that honors the land's tradition.  This is reflected in their Nivia white wine.

2018 Mas Llunes Garnacha Blanca/Macabeu 'Nivia' Empordà Spain $?*
As it warms to cellar temperature, its voluptuous shape unfolds, framed by well-defined, taut edges.  Though full, giving, and generous, there's nothing heavy or boastful about it. This is an elegant and sexy wine that maintains proportional evenness as it casts a dizzying, swooning spell.  Beautifully unencumbered by manipulation, this is as clean an expression of grape and place as I've had the pleasure of experiencing in a long time.  Bravo. 

*Mas Llunes (shockingly) does not have a US importer as of yet, so this wine is only available in Europe, where it retails for around $12. Given what's happening with recently-imposed tariffs, it's anyone's guess what will happen to accessibility to the US market, let alone pricing.




Friday, October 25, 2019

Recycle Bin, Week of Oct. 21

It's been a busy month of tasting through a lot of samples, some good, some excellent, and a few duds.  Also a mixed bag of items here, including some in alternative packaging and an Israeli red.  Of particular note are the Greek red and the Italian white blend. I've purchased these two wines multiple times and will do so again in the near future - that's how delicious and satisfying they are.

Cheers!


2018 Alois Lageder Pinot Grigio Dolomiti Terra Alpina $13
Super light platinum blonde in the glass, but anyone thinking that will translate to a shy or insipid wine is in for a surprise. Steely minerals greet the nose and give way to crackling acidity that pirouettes around the palate. Textbook pinot grigio fruit, but its alpine provenance is evident in the chiseled structure. No flab on this food-friendly, fairly priced white.

2018 Alois Lageder Pinot Bianco Dolomiti Terra Alpina $20
Almost as pale as the pinot grigio, but that’s where the similarities diverge. This nose points to something deeper and more complex. A creamy undertone on the tongue and a mellower vibe suggest more drinking, less talking. Enough space for the minerals to share center stage with the mountain fruit. Very easy going and just as alpine as the PG.

NV iCan (Mercer Estates) Chardonnay Washington $?
This tastes suspiciously similar to Mercer‘s normal Chardonnay bottling in glass. The incongruity of plump vanilla, toasty oak, and cream coming out of a metal can is a little peculiar at first. But it’s what’s inside that matters. Easy drinking and not cloying, this is an uncomplicated crowd pleaser.

NV iCan (Mercer Estates) Rose Washington $?
Simple yet flirtatious, this has a bit of acidity that makes it refreshing. Less fruity than expected, and again, incongruous coming out of a skinny, tall can.

2017 Skouras 'Zoe' Red Peloponnese Greece $13
I just can't get enough of this brilliant wine.  Made mostly from the agiorgitiko grape, it's lighter in density and a couple of shades lighter than a pinot noir.  But it offers lively, electric flavors and irresistible acidity.  Easily a top 10 value discovery for the year and another reason to be on the look out for more Greek wines.





2018 Carmel Private Collection Winemakers Blend Israel $15
Bright nose bursting with lively black fruit aromatics, a theme that (almost) continues in the mouth. Very structured, with broad oak notes framing a lighter weight consonant midsection than you’d expect from a wine of such dark flavors. But that juxtaposition allows for subtleties to echo and a refreshing aspect to linger. Will likely improve and open with a year or two in the cellar.

2016 Buglioni Bianco 'Il Desperato' Veneto $18
This was a discovery made on a recent trip to Verona, whose home town white is Soave. But the locals drink whatever is good, like this garganega-dominated blend.  Amazing lucidity and luminescence that triggers instant infatuation, I'll gladly look past the pricey-ish domestic price tag again and again as I fall deeper and deeper for this aptly named wine.