Saturday, December 31, 2011

Most Frequent Questions of 2011?

As this year comes roaring to a close, here are the top three wine-related questions I get asked---along with my answers.

1.  What wine region offers the best values?   Hands down, Mendoza (Argentina) offers the best bang for the buck.  Malbec, one of the main varietals of Bordeaux, achieves super-star status here.  Moreover, the wines can be drunk fairly young.  

2.   What are your favorite wines in the <$20 category?  You can’t beat Argiola Costamolino Vermentino from Sardenia, Yalumba Sangiovese Rose from Australia, as well as several Malbecs from Mendoza (see above) including Norton, Altos Las Hormigas, Zuccardi.

3.  What wines are off the general radar that I should know about?   The Douro Valley in Portugal(home of Port) is making some knock-your-socks off reds.  Bierzo (Spain) is also producing some world-class wines from the red Mencia grape.  Grown only in this small corner of Northwest Spain, Mencia is well worth seeking-out…and the price won’t break your post-Christmas wallet.  For white varietals, Vermentino (see #2) from Italy. and Torrontes from Mendoza, Argentina rock! 

Monday, December 26, 2011

Quality Wines From Temecula

Up until recently, quality and Temecula was an oxymoron.  Having moved a few years ago from the San Francisco Bay area to San Diego County, I’ve been praying to Bacchus that someday, someone in nearby Temecula would make a great wine.  My prayers have been answered with not only one winery, but two, that are making superb wines.  There’s only one problem:  they’re not cheap.

The first one that knocked my socks off had been recommended by a winemaker from California’s Central Coast.  We had oenophiles visiting from Northern California and I warned them several times during the 40 minute drive from our home, “Do not expect Napa.  Do not expect Sonoma.  In fact, don’t expect anything.”   Then we walked into Doffo’s tasting room and the earth shifted on its axis.

Doffo is committed to small lot, limited production wines.  The family, originally from the famous Barolo wine district in Italy, has great pedigree DNA and it shows in their wines.  Every sip I tasted was well crafted and could have competed with Italian superstars from Barolo & Barbaresco.  My visitors, who have traveled to the world’s most famous wine districts, immediately joined Doffo’s wine club.  I just received an email from them that the Tiarella Cabernet was “outstanding.”  It better have been as it was $200.

The second winery producing world-class wines is Leoness.  I was introduced to Leoness by my new friend, Debbie--- the local-in-the-know wine maven.   She served a 2008 Signature Select Melange ($80) at a dinner party she hosted this summer, and as the saying goes, the rest is history.  I raved so much about the wine that she recently invited us to Leoness’ wine club dinner party (the winery’s al fresco restaurant was just voted the best new restaurant in Temecula).   The winery is stunning and the food excellent…but the wines from the Signature Select series are the real stars of the show,

Monday, December 19, 2011

Best Wines of 2011

Ok, I know it’s a little like choosing your favorite child, but here’s the Top 10 wines I had in 2011. Wine districts represented include several from California.  As I am a Pinot lover the Russian River (#1,5,6,7,8) had the most entries, but  I also adored one from Santa Barbara County (#3).  Bordeaux also floated to the top (#4) along with the Yarra Valley of Australia (#2).   The last two will surprise many:  Portugal (#9), and most unpredicted of all, the Temecula wine district of Southern California (#10). 

They are in no particular order…the earth moved fairly equally with each one.

  1. Dehlinger Pinot 2001  ($50)
  2. Yarra Yering Red Number 3  2008 ($90)
  3. Piedrasassi White 2010 ($42)
  4. Chateau Leoville Poyferré 1996  ($175)
  5. William Selyem Pinot 1998  ($120)
  6. Hartford Court
    Pinot 2008 ($65)
  7. Merry Edwards Sauvignon Blanc 2009 ($30)
  8. Dehlinger Chardonnay 2008 ($45)
  9. Quinta do Vallado Reserva Douro 2008 ($50)
  10. Leoness Signature Select Melange 2008 ($75)
Top Value for 2011?  Hands-down it goes to Guigal’s 2007 Cotes de Rhone for $13….we’ve bought at least 10 cases at Costco and are heading back for more.  A top notch French producer, Guigal’s Rhone blend could masquerade in a blind tasting for 3-4 times its price.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Serving Whites at the Correct Temperature

The temperature that a wine is served at can dramatically alter the way it tastes and smells.  People generally serve red wine too warm (see my last posting) and white too cold.  White wine that has been stored in the refrigerator for several hours is often taken out and immediately served.   Refrigerators are typically 35-40 degrees.  However, the ideal temperature for serving white wines is 50-55 degrees (45-50 degrees for sparkling wines).

Colder temperatures mask the aromatics and flavor nuances of a white wine.  More complex whites are all but ruined by being served too cold as you will not be able to notice the quality.  The good news is that if you place both hands around the glass your body heat will warm the wine in minutes.  There’s no need to ask for help from the wait-staff (but informing them of the icy temperature should be done).

If you store your white wines at room temperature (70 degrees) here are some quick tips for getting them to appropriate serving temperatures:

  • Lighter-bodied whites (e.g. Sauvignon Blanc and Rosé):  refrigerate 3 hours prior to serving.
  • Complex whites (e.g. an aged Chardonnay):  refrigerate 2.5 hour prior to serving.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Keep it Cool---Serving Red Wine at the Correct Temperature

I’m a warm-weather-kind-of-gal (that’s why I now live in San Diego rather than San Francisco).  As winter approaches the Northern Hemisphere, one of the few benefits of this cooler time of year is the increased chances of being served a red wine at the correct temperature.  There’s nothing I find more irritating than to be poured a warm red.  The more expensive the wine (and the more pricey the restaurant), the more annoyed I become.

The ideal temperature for serving red wine is 55-60 degrees (lighter weight reds like Pinot should be served more in the 55 degree range, while heavier-bodied Cabernets are best at about 60 degrees).  Room temperature is typically 70-75 degrees, depending on time of year and climate.  Serve a red at this temperature and all you’ll taste is the alcohol.  A hot summer’s day can be catastrophic on a big, complex red that has not been appropriately chilled.

If you’re served a warm red wine in a restaurant be prepared for a possible battle.  Knowledgeable wait-staff will not scoff at bringing you an ice bucket, however, those not so wine savvy may convulse at such an outrageous thought.  Stick to your guns and insist on the ice-bucket.  (And, if you have a heart, use this as a teachable moment with under-trained staff to let them see the wine’s evolution from warm to the ideal chilled temperature.) 

For those of you who do not have the ability to store wines in their optimum 55-60 range, here are some quick tips for getting them closer to appropriate serving temperatures:

  • For lighter reds which have been stored at room temperature (70 degrees), refrigerate them 2 hours prior to serving.
  • For heavier reds stored at room temperature (70 degrees), refrigerate them 1 hour prior to serving.

Stay tuned for the ideal white wine temperatures in my next BLOG posting.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Best Bubblies for the Holidays

Sparkling wines are at big hit at our house year-round---not just on special occasions.  (I say pop a cork on a bubbly mid-week regardless of what season it is and turn a run-of-the-mill day or night magically into something not so mundane).  With the "holidaze" quickly approaching, below are my suggestions for the best bubbles.  They vary in price from $10-$120, but all represent good quality/price ratio in their respective ranges.  Most of them, Wine-Knows Travel has been fortunate enough to visit the winery.

Under $10
·        Cristallino Brut.  I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t have had it in a blind-tasting.  I later found out that Robert Parker had scored this Spanish cava with 91 points.  All of this for the great sum of $7.99.

$10- 20
·        Roederer Estate Anderson Valley Brut.   Made by the same company that produces France’s legendary Cristal Champagne that sells for ten times the price ($200), this American sparkler is consistently on my best buy list. 
·        Gruet Blanc de Noirs (or Brut).  Sparkling wine from New Mexico?  (For that matter, wine of any type from New Mexico?)  This is not any oxymoron.   The Gruet family, producers of excellent Champagne in France, have won countless awards for their very well-crafted American bubbles. 
·        Le Colture Prosecco.  This is one of the best made sparklers from the Prosecco region (which lies in the hills above Venice.)  Viva Italia!

  • Arglye Brut.    While not known for its sparkling wine, Oregon soars with this one. Make sure you have plenty of this one in your cellar throughout the year.
  • Ca Del Bosco Franciacorta .  Made by one of my fave producers in the world of sparkling wine, these luscious Italian gems are a great way to ring in the holidays.
  • Ployez-Jacquemart Champagne.  Made by a boutique producer, this one is hard to find in retail shops, but well worth the effort (suggest you buy online.)
$50 - $100
·        Billecart-Salmon Brut Rose.   I still remember my first sip of this and that was >25 years ago.  Yes, I love the beautiful “salmon” color, but it’s the taste that completely seduced me.

$ 100-120
  • Egly-Ouriet Champagne.   For those who can pony up the 100+ bucks, this French delight just might leave you breathless.  In a league of its own.