Saturday, December 26, 2015

Best Value Wine Producers

The New Year is approaching and I can’t think of a better way to ring it in than addressing the subject of value in wine.  It’s true that value is in the eyes of the beholder.  That being said, here’s what my eyeballs tell me about wineries from around the globe that consistently have wines in their portfolios offering marvelous values >$20.

  • Joel Gott:  While located in St Helena, this producer sources grapes from all over the state, in addition to Oregon and Washington.   I particularly like his Sauv Blanc ($12), but I’m also a fan of his Cabernet “815” which sells for the bargain price of $18.

  • Churchill & Claiborne:  If you love bone-dry Alsatian wines, put this producer on your list for 2016.  I love their Gewurztraminer, but their Riesling also offers a good quality/price ratio.  Both wines are about 20 bucks.

  • Barrell 27:   This winery, located in Paso Robles, reminds me of “the little engine that could.”   Owned by a young, edgy group of friends, they deliver superb value over and over again.  With wine names like “Take the Bull by the Horn” and  “Head Honcho” you gotta love these wines.  $15-20 

  • Los Maquis:  Owned by a family that has been growing wine grapes for >100 years, this one knocks it out of the park with value.  Imported by Global Vineyards in the San Francisco’s Bay Area, Los Maquis has scores in the 90’s from Robert Parker, as well as high scores from a host of critics around the globe.  Try the Lien for just under $20.

  • Montes:  If Montes is on the list in a restaurant and you’re looking for an inexpensive wine, this one is a sure bet.  Made by one of South America’s top winemakers, Aurelio Montes, his “Alpha” series is a blockbuster.  I especially like the Alpha Cab Sauv.  $20

  • Montes:  Aurelio Montes has been so successful that he has expanded his winemaking operations across the Andes.  There is no finer value than his Kaiken made from the Malbec grape at about $15.

  • Catena Zapata:   This producer is synonymous with quality and value.  One of South America’s most innovative, you can count on it to deliver a great bang for the buck in the $15-20 range. 

  • Yalumba:   The dollar is now strong once more in Australia so bargains abound if you know which wines to choose.  If you don’t know Australian wines well you can always bet on Yalumba. While this winery produces offerings in every price point, they offer a consistently good value in their >$20 wines.  My fave is their rosé which is crafted from Sangiovese.  

  • Cabriz:  Portugal offers some of the best red wine values in the world and Cabriz is a stellar example.  At >$10 a bottle, this producer knocks it out of the park.

  • Domaine Felines Jourdan:  Bargains are present in this country, however, you need to get off the beaten track to find them.  The Languedoc-Rousillion, located in France’s southwestern corner along the Mediterranean, is pushing the quality/price envelope.  This producer’s Picpoul de Pinet is one of the best value whites I know.  $10

  • Poggio Tesoro:   Tesoro means “treasure” in Italian, and this winery is truly one.  While their reds are a little too pricey for this article, their Solosole Vermentino qualifies hands-down as a terrific buy at $15.

Wishing you a value-filled New Year. 

Friday, December 18, 2015

Brilliant Bordeaux Bargains

I belong to a very high-end group of Bordeaux wine-lovers called the Commanderie de Bordeaux.  One has to be recommended to join, and then must be vetted via several personal interviews with members of the club. (Some of the questions I was asked were:  How large is your cellar?  What percentage of your wine is Bordeaux?  Burgundy?)  Many of their events are black tie and held in San Diego’s finest restaurants or at swanky private country-clubs….and older vintages of the top Bordeaux chateau are always served.  So, how could I turn down the opportunity to attend the Commanderie’s seminar on bargains from Bordeaux?

Each attendee was asked to bring a bottle of red from the 2011 vintage with a price of <$40.  Each person was asked to decant their wine for one hour prior to the seminar.  All wines were tasted blindly (always my preference).  Wines were tasted in flights of four.  Wines were scored in each flight with a 1st, 2nd, 3rd, or 4th place rating.  At the end of the full tasting, the top three scoring wines were then re-tasted against one another and then re-ranked. 

Before I list the winner, let me say that the wines were quite diverse.  There were wines from both Left and Right Banks, as well as from Graves.   A few didn’t offer much in terms of aromatics.  Some were thin and didn’t have a finish.  As expected because of their youth, many had rough tannins.  A couple of the wines were inspid (my tasting notes indicated “no there, there” for aroma, taste & finish).
Here are the group’s top three scoring wines.  The first two wines are definitely worth buying, representing great quality/price ratio.  Both of these should be cellared for another 2-3 years minimum.
  • 1st place:  Chateau La Pointe (Pommerol)
  • 2nd place:  Chateau Montlandrie (Cotes de Castillon, just east of St Emilion)
  • 3rd place:  Chateau Larrivet Haut-Brion (Pessac Leognan)

Hope you find lots of bargains in 2016!

Friday, December 11, 2015

Great Wine Gifts for the Holidays

It’s that time of year:  Hanukkah, Christmas, and New Years---as well as hostess gifts for all of those holiday parties.  Below is a list of ideas for wine lovers on your list---organized by price.

                A dry Gewurztaminer is a lovely alternative for the holidays

Alsatian Gewurztraminer is a perfect pairing for holiday turkey.  I often serve a glass of Pinot Noir and a glass of this dry Gewurztraminer with holiday dinners and ask everyone to choose their favorite pairing.  Nine times out of ten, the Gewurz wins.  Favorite producers include Albert Mann, Trimbach and Weinbach.  Prices ranges from $25 to $75, depending on if it is a Grand Cru.

                                              Get in the holiday spirit with a Lillet cocktail

Lillet Blanc and Lillet Rouge.   Made in Bordeaux, Lillet is a delightful aperitif that has become very popular in the USA, particularly over the last 10 years.  The white version ("blanc") is distilled from Bordeaux’s Sauvignon Blanc and Semillion grapes; the red from the region’s Cabernet & Merlot.  I like to give the two bottles as a gift set and include a hand-written recipe for a divine cocktail that uses both (i.e. equal parts of Lillet Blanc, Rouge & tonic water with an orange slice).  $40 per duo

                                                 My first of many Aperol Spritzs, Venice

Sticking with the aperitif theme and another pair of bottles that are perfectly matched for gifting, Aperol and Prosecco are a match made in heaven.  An Aperol Spritz (a 50-50 mixture of the two) is all the rage in Italy.  While it originated in the Venice region, these colorful drinks have to be Italy’s most popular drink…outside of wine and espresso.  Love, love, love this drink.  $40 for the two
                                         World-class sparkling wine from Northern Italy

Ferghenttina’s sparkling wine comes in a sensational pyramid-shaped bottle designed by the owner of the winery.  (The bottle’s design maximizes the yeast’s contact with the wine during the second fermentation in the bottle which supposedly leads to greater flavors and aromas.)  But, it’s not only the bottle that is special.  Made in the exact method that Champagne is made in France, this Italian high-end version is no knock-off…in fact, it could compete right up there with the best Champagne houses.  Aged on the lees for three years, there is a rosé version made from Pinot Noir, or a white one made from 100% Chardonnay.  Both are real stunners.  $55-65

                           Nothings says the holidays like the real-deal French Champagne 

You can never go wrong in gifting a bottle of French Champagne. I have two recommendations, both non-vintage, that are guaranteed to win over even the most discerning oenophile.  First, is Ployez-Jacquemart, a small family-owned Champagne House that produces premier wines.  It’s difficult to find, but worth seeking out online for a great quality price ratio of about $50.  The latter is the most decadent gift on this list---a Champagne made by Baron Rothschild.  The Baron’s empire is in Bordeaux, however, he does produce a small amount of Champagne.  Dear friends gifted me a bottle of this deliciously rich and complex Chardonnay-dominant bubbly on a recent birthday (BTW, they bought it at Costco but I’ve learned that only certain stores received a few precious bottles).  $95-120

Happy Holidays!

Friday, December 4, 2015

Santa in Your Mailbox

The holiday season is descending and with a global digital economy this means specialty food-shopping is just a click away.  It’s no longer necessary to bring home your beloved treats from travels out of state or overseas--- most can be easily ordered online and within days be delivered to your doorstep.  Here’s a list (and, I’ve checked it twice) of my treasured foodie items that scream holidays.

                                  Long Clawson's Stilton is worth seeking out.

Stilton Cheese:   Yes, I know Trader Joe’s carries Stilton, but it can’t compare with the Stilton from Long Clawson Dairy in England.  I was so enamored with this cheese that I made a trip to England in the 1990’s to visit this dairy.  Williams Sonoma (catalogue only), carries a 2 lb wheel of it over the holidays only, however it’s $75. has the best price at about $20 a lb.

                                          I don't even like bacon but this one grabbed me.

Applewood Smoked Bacon:  I was introduced to this beyond-belief-bacon at a cooking class in Savannah, Georgia this year with a group of Wine-Knows.  The chef orders oodles of it directly from the family that has been smoking meats for nearly a century.  I ordered several pounds of it the night after the class while sitting in my bed in Savannah.  $13 per pound and worth every penny:

                             The ideal accompaniment to any charcuterie platter.

Duck Mousse Basque:  ‘Tis the season of indulgence and this decadent treat is sure to please even the most serious foodie.  Packed in a serving-ready crock, the mousse’s creamy and dreamy texture, along with its Port-infused flavor, are the perfect gift for the holidays. $10 plus shipping at

                                    William Sonoma's bombshell cookies.

Peppermint Bark Cookies:   I could kill the friend who brought me these as a gift as they are truly killer.  There are many knockoffs out there, but none can compare to those found in William Sonoma’s online catalogue (William Sonoma has an exclusive arrangement with their maker so that they cannot be sold elsewhere).  Outrageously priced at $25 for a dozen small cookies, they are the holiday bomb.

                          American fruit cake needs to take a serious lesson from Italian Panforte.

Panforte di Siena:  Panforte is a very dense, honey spice cake chocked full of nuts and dried fruits.   The original recipe comes from the Tuscan town of Siena, however, nearly every town in central Italy now offers them for sale.  There are many online sources for them, but I suggest using to reduce the shipping charges should you order the above stilton.  $20-30.

                                         Mostarda is found in every deli in northern Italy.

Mostarda:  Keeping on the Italian theme, this condiment from northern Italy makes for a great holiday gift.   Think of an Italian chutney and serve it with a cheese platter, or as an accompaniment to meat or poultry.  It comes in a variety of fruit flavors and combinations of fruits. carries several flavors, but I particularly like the fig:  $10.

Have a yummy holidaze.