Buying Bordeaux on a Budget

Located along the Atlantic Ocean in the Southwest area of France, Bordeaux is the largest major wine appellation in the country. It offers 65 sub-appellations within its borders, and boasts over 277,000 acres of land under vine. While red wines account for 85% of the total production in Bordeaux, there is also dry white, sweet, rosé and sparkling styles produced – something for everyone.

Thanks to modern vineyard and cellar practices, very good to great wine can be produced in Bordeaux each year. With its maritime and variable climate, vintage variation is common, with some years being riper, more opulent and powerful, while others are more ‘classic’ in style, with more subtle flavors and lighter body.

As the notion of red Bordeaux as an exclusive collector wine dwindles, more consumers see the value and quality of Bordeaux at all price points.  In fact, modestly priced Bordeaux has never been better.  As indicated earlier, improved vineyard practices and more plot-by-plot viticulture in Bordeaux have resulted in some of the best values on the market, with wines that are clean and complex, but still anchored to a true sense of place.

So now you ask, where to start when you search for a great – yet affordable – Bordeaux for your dinner table? A few tips for the beginner Bordeaux drinker.

  1. Snag any wine from a “great” vintage
    Sometimes the stars align just right and the weather in Bordeaux is perfect through harvest, the vines stay healthy and vignerons pick just at the right moment. Critics praise this as a “great” vintage. When one of these years come around, snagging any bottle of wine even when you are not sure of the producer is a safe bet. Healthy grapes make great wine. The most recent great vintages were 2015 and 2016, though some 2016 have not made it to the global market yet. 2014 was also very good, noted as more elegant and less bold or opulent so if you enjoy subtle and refined, 2014 may be your year. Bordeaux and Bordeaux Superior wines from these vintages are ready to be enjoyed now, though could evolve even more in your cellar over the next few years… up to you! Either way, with the quality out there, it’s time to stock up!
  2. Look to the Côtes
    Once operating as their own entities, the “côtes” of Bordeaux joined forces to create “Union de Côtes de Bordeaux.” Previously labeled as Côtes de Castillon or Côtes de Francs, these regions now promote a larger Côtes de Bordeaux association as Francs, Côtes de Bordeaux or Castillon, Côtes de Bordeaux. This allows smaller, lesser-known regions to better associate with the more internationally recognizable name Bordeaux. These Côtes are on the right bank, meaning red wines predominantly based on the Merlot grape. Typically more approachable when young, the Côtes wines are affordable, intensely flavored and delicious.
  3. Strong producers typically fare well no matter what mother nature delivers.
    Certain producers, the ones you see year after year on the shelf, craft great wine in nearly every vintage, whether it’s good, very good or great. Not to say the wine will taste the same year-to-year (that’s the beauty of Bordeaux), but the quality will be consistent and worth enjoying.

Bordeaux creates some of the most food-friendly wines in world, and when you can get top quality at incredible prices, it deserves a place on the table. Enjoy!

 

Grab a Glass of European Garnacha (aka Grenache) for #GarnachaDay

 

 

Garnacha, one of Spain’s signature red wine grape varieties, is known and loved as “Grenache” in France, where it enjoys exceptional plantings in the warm Mediterranean climate of Roussillon. While staking claims on being one of the oldest and widest planted red wine grapes in the world, with its origins firmly planted in the varied terroirs of Spain and France, the EU boasts over 97% of the grape’s plantings on an international level.

Garnacha/Grenache – The Grape: Early to bud, often last to harvest, this hardy, thin-skinned red grape is thought to have originated in the landlocked region of Aragon in northeastern Spain. Because Garnacha/Grenache acclimates quickly to the varying demands of crazy continental climates as well as the warm weather patterns of the Mediterranean like a champ, it is a go-to grape for all sorts of winemaking missions. From world class rosés to concentrated collectibles and fortified favorites, and routinely bottled as a key contributor in synergistic blends or flying solo as a single variety, Garnacha/Grenache brings plenty of vinous charm and outright versatility to the winemaker’s cellar. After all, what other single grape variety can lay creative claim to redwhite, and rosé, dry, off-dry, and sweet, fortified along with sparkling wine renditions?

Garnacha/Grenache Flavor Profiles: In general, Spain and Southern France’s warm, sunbaked growing season gives rise to well-ripened Garnacha/Grenache grape clusters that may carry considerable sugar, which converts to elevated alcohol levels in the bottle. Ranging from medium to full-bodied, often hauling higher alcohol levels (15% is not uncommon), with lower levels of innate acidity, and sporting thinner skins that give way to modest tannins all balanced by engaging aromatics, Garnacha/Grenache shines bright with delicious ripe red fruit character. Expect a berry medley to take center stage with raspberry, strawberry, blackberry and cherry dominating initial impressions. Peppery influences along with cinnamon and cloves, earth and herbs, chocolate and coffee, savory spice and smoky notes may all debut in the bottle. Tapping into old vines that produce lower yields, allows many Garnacha/Grenache vineyard managers to deliver assertive wines with remarkable flavor intensity that showcase a rich, full-bodied, concentrated palate profile. Just to keep things interesting, Garnacha/Grenache may also be crafted as delicious white wine, ranging from fresh and mineral-driven to rich, round and full-bodied, dubbed appropriately as “Garnacha Blanca” or “Grenache Blanc.”

Pairing Picks for Garnacha/Grenache: With its less intense acidity and tamer tannin levels offset by ripe fruit forward flavors, European-style Garnacha/Grenache is a versatile, food-friendly partner for all sorts of delicious fare. A natural for grilled meat, smoked baby back ribs, a mix of regional barbecue, burgers, brats and brisket, chorizo and shrimp paella, seasonal gazpacho, Serrano ham and Manchego, slow roasted lamb, chicken stuffed with chorizo, lentils, the Paleo favorite of bacon-wrapped dates, spicy tacos and burritos, hearty stews, and meat lover’s pizza, Garnacha/Grenache promises and delivers some serious pairing partnerships.

Regional Garnacha/Grenache in Spain and Roussillon:
Today, Garnacha/Grenache finds firm footing throughout Spain and the Roussillon region of France. In Spain, the most passionate producers and classic wines can be found from these five DO regions: Campo de Borja, Terra Alta, Somontano, Cariñena and Calatayud.  Campo de Borja, the self-proclaimed “Empire of Garnacha,” was the first to embrace and develop the concept of modern varietal Garnacha wines. Its picturesque wine route is a haven for wine country tourists. Terra Alta, the white Garnacha specialist, delivers mineral-driven wines that highlight the grape’s versatility. Somontano approaches the grape with a New World spin, crafting luxury wines built to age. Cariñena  is an up and coming region that combines altitude, wind, significant diurnal temperature swings with old vine concentration, but let’s face it Cariñena is not quite a household name (yet!) for Spanish wine growing regions, which means that the price to quality ratios are still stellar. Calatayud often delivers its Garnacha in a versatile light. From intense, hot pink rosés to full throttle, full-bodied high-octane reds.  Grenache is the enterprising go-getter of Roussillon, backed by 28 centuries of vineyard prowess and a coveted Mediterranean climate, this French wine growing region is bringing laser-like focus to biodynamic and organic wine offerings. From the Spanish border along the coast, the Roussillon region caters to old Grenache vines that produce both dry and fortified wines from the grape.

Classified as PDOs (Protected Designation of Origin) by the European Union, wines from all of these regions are upheld to strict standards to ensure the highest level of quality.

 

 

Rias Baixas & Albarino – Choices of Style

Albariño, from the coastal region of Rías Baixas, the grape’s birthplace, is celebrated worldwide for its signature qualities – vibrant acidity, fresh, fruit-forward aromatics and versatility to pair with a wide range of foods. What wine lovers and Albariño enthusiasts may not realize is the variety’s spectrum of styles — and the new winemaking techniques being implemented throughout Rías Baixas and its sub-regions. While often bottled and consumed young, this world-class variety continues to evolve in surprising ways. The grape’s natural characteristics lend itself to a variety of winemaking techniques and styles, including:

  1. Wild Yeasts: Some winemakers favor the use of wild yeasts during fermentation. This practice can be challenging as the winemaker has less control over which exact yeasts are present, but the technique also enhances the grape’s authentic characteristics in the wine and adds complexity.
  2.  Barrel fermentation and/or aging: Aromatic grapes (like Albariño) typically avoid oak. Barrel contact can dull or mute the aromatics and freshness of the grape, which leaves the wine flabby and uninteresting. But in certain years (particularly warm ones that produce riper, richer grapes), controlled barrel fermentation or aging can truly enhance Albariño — adding texture and extending the wine’s potential to age. More winemakers are experimenting with this option.
  3. Lees Aging: Those little particles post-fermentation can be pretty powerful. The lees, otherwise known as dead yeast, are often removed immediately following fermentation. However, allowing the wine to stay on the lees can add tremendous benefit. Producers in Rías Baixas are using this technique to highlight texture, flavor and freshness.

These different techniques ensure that tasting Albariño will never be boring. Stock up on a few bottles to experience the unique styles of each!

Top 10 Washington Wines that will WOW you

If you have not been enjoying the bounty of Washington State wines on your table, it’s time to give them a try. The 2nd largest wine producer in the US – just after California – Washington utilizes its ideal weather and soil to craft some of the most exceptional wines in the world. And these wines come in at a fraction of the price of some of their French and California counterparts.

Diversity is a strength here, from crisp and refreshing Riesling to dense and spicy Syrah. The one consistent factor is quality. Here are the top 10 Washington wines to “wow” your palate.

Eroica Riesling 2015
Riesling has found a unique identity in Washington, with crisp acidity, juicy fruit and an underlying lip-smacking minerality that begs for another sip. Eroica is a classic year after year with its impeccable balance. A favorite with Thai or Asian food with a hint of spice.

L’Ecole 41 Chenin Blanc 2016
L’Ecole is one of our favorite producers, so it’s hard to pick just one of their offerings to suggest, but the Chenin Blanc is such an incredible wine at an even better price. Fresh & lively fruit flavors of nectarine, tangerine and lemon shine through. Bright acidity backs a medium-bodied texture. One of those wines that pleases nearly every palate.

Sixto Uncovered Chardonnay 2015
If you think Uncovered means un-oaked, you would be wrong here. This barrel-fermented Chardonnay is a rich and creamy style, but with excellent acidity and character to give it an uplifting finish and feel. Comes in at a fraction of it’s Napa Valley Chardonnay counterparts and it excels in quality.

Woodward Canyon Columbia Valley Merlot 2014
If you’re wondering where to find quality Merlot, look no further than Washington State. Structured, yet silky smooth, Washington Merlot offer extraordinary balance and complexity. Woodward Canyon is one of the oldest wineries in the state. Their Merlot is age-worthy (I’ve had a 1980 that is still holding up!) and offers fruit, spice and earth in perfect harmony.

Substance Cabernet Sauvignon 2016
This has to be one of our favorite Cabernet values from anywhere. If you’ve ever been disappointed in an under $20 Cabernet that tastes only like fruit and alcohol, give this wine a try. I recommend it for any Cabernet-lover on a budget because it offers a rich, full-bodied texture with cassis, blackberry, tobacco and a touch of spice. It’s such a full expression of Cabernet.

Leonetti Cabernet Sauvignon 2015
On the opposite end of the value of Substance, the Leonetti is one for the cellar. Excelling in wines for the cellar, this Cabernet offer an explosion of flavors like anise, lavendar, cassis, blackberry, mocha and of course the classic dark fruit of Cabernet. Structured, with fine-grained tannins to help this go two or three decades if you are patient enough.

Spring Valley Frederick Estate Red 2014
When you have such great success with Merlot and Cabernet, Bordeaux Blends will not be far behind. Spring Valley crafts a delicious blend, mostly Cabernet, with dark fruit, cedar, spice, and an incredible full-bodied texture that lingers on the palate. Yes, you can save this for a while, but it’s terrible delicious now as well. If you want another Spring Valley treat, try the Uriah blend – another favorite!

DeLille D2 Estate Red 2015
An expert in the Bordeaux blend, both white and red, the D2 red is primarily Merlot, offering softer red and black fruits like cherry and plum. Approachable now, the silky texture and lingering finish will keep you coming back for more.

Tenet Wine The Pundit Syrah 2015
A best-seller and a wine you should keep on-hand at all times, The Pundit Syrah delivers that perfect blend of spice, smoke and juicy, dark berry fruit. Easy drinking and full-bodied, it’s a perfect match for grilled meat or burgers.  And you cannot beat the price.

L’Ecole 41 Columbia Valley Syrah 2015
I once found a L’Ecole Syrah in my cellar that was 7 years old. It was incredible, getting better as it opened up. With a bit more structure, spice and tannin than the Pundit, L’Ecole Syrah is more Rhone-like, the spice and smoke subtly integrated into the overall structure.  That said, 2015 was a super warm vintage, so more jam comes through with this particular year.

 

Germany: Light, refreshing and underrated

If you think you know German wine, think again. German wines are some of the most complex, interesting and delicious wines in the world. If you are a German wine fan, you are aware of this little secret, but for those who skip the tall bottles labeled with unfamiliar German text, you are missing out. Through my wine-centered academic pursuits, I often encounter resistance to look past one’s own inexperience with German labeling and pronunciation, and that is a shame. If we can add foreign terms like “Chateau” and “Grand Cru” to our wine vocabulary, we can learn to recognize the German counterparts of “Schloss” and “Grosses Gewächs” — and open ourselves up to a whole new world of electric Rieslings and elegant Pinots. Here are some educational tid-bits that may help you in understanding and buying German wine — you’ll soon realize that reading German wine labels is as easy as drinking Riesling.

The White Grapes:
The most common grape associated with Germany is Riesling. Germany is the homeland of Riesling and it is the region’s most-planted varietal, so this is a reasonable association. In Germany’s cooler climate, Riesling quite often produces a dry wine, with an array of fruit flavors backed by incredibly refreshing acidity (hello, summer!) and a mineral undertone. What makes Riesling unique –and possibly misunderstood — is its ability to be bone dry yet carry such juicy and ripe fruit through its aromas and flavors. And oh, did I mention the crisp and refreshing acidity? And…should you prefer sweeter wines, no better place to find top-quality than Germany; late harvest German Riesling is some of the best and most age-worthy sweet wine in the world!

In addition to Riesling, Germany produces Müller-Thurgau, an easy-drinking, refreshing white wine with apple and pear flavors perfect for hot summer days, Silvaner,  a traditional variety in the Rheinhessen and Frankenregions that offers subtle notes of stone fruits with an herbal edge, Pinot Gris (also known as Grauburgunder) and Pinot Blanc (Weissburgunder). The latter two are grapes you probably know from other regions, but here in Germany they are a bit more rich and round than their other European counterparts, with loads of ripe fruit and soft acidity.

The Black Grapes:
While the region is most well-known for its fresh, elegant whites, Germany also produces bright, fruit-driven reds. Pinot Noir (also known as Spätburgunder) accounts for 11% of Germany’s total vineyard area, producing red wines with cherry, vanilla and pepper characteristics. In fact, Germany now grows more Pinot Noir than New Zealand and Australia combined, making Germany the third largest Pinot Noir producer in the world.

In addition to Pinot Noir, Germany produces Dornfelder – a thick-skinned grape that produces deeply colored red wines with flavors of blackberry, plum and Elder Flower. If you are hesitant to stock up on German wines because you fear it’s sweet or don’t understand the label, here are a couple of tips for diving in.

Understanding the wine style:
If you don’t want sweet, look for words that indicate dry. One of those terms used is Trocken. Trocken means “dry” in German and some wineries add this word to their labels to alert consumers that the particular wine is indeed dry. Then there is Grosses Gewächs. Sometimes shown as simply “GG” on the bottle, it means two things — first, it’s a dry style, and, second, it comes from a top vineyard site. Typically these will be higher in price, but also in quality. Kabinett, a term that indicates the sugar level of the grapes when they are picked, is typically light in body and can range from off-dry to drier in style. An easy way to determine just how dry the wine is? Look at the alcohol content. Kabinett Riesling with an alcohol level between 8-9% ABV will have more residual sugar, while drier styles can reach 12% ABV. If you want to start with Riesling on the delicate side, go to the Mosel. You will see Mosel on the label, but you can also tell because Mosel wines are bottled in a tall flute-shaped greenbottle. The Mosel, dominated by slate soils on steep slopes near rivers, produces some of the best quality dry (and sweet!) Riesling of Germany. Across all price points, these wines offer citrus and stone fruit, backed by a steely minerality. They are delicate and delicious and a perfect foray into the delights of German wine.

We encourage you to embrace German wines, especially this summer, and enjoy that perfect summer mix of delightful acidity and juicy fruit flavors. You will be the hit at every summer party!

 

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