Category Archives: Staff Picks

Aussie Wines Rocking My World

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What do we really know about Australia and the wines made there? Maybe less than we should! Not only is Australia a huge country (sixth largest in the world) but it’s also the source of some of the world’s most spectacular wines. If you still equate the country with large-production value Shiraz and not much else, it’s time to take a closer look.

I got a full immersion into the wide variety of Australian wines when I judged in the Sydney International Wine Competition in 2012. As one of three Americans, I was treated to an Australian wine education by the Aussies, Kiwis and Brits. I was just a bit surprised by the complex methods used at this judging. The organizers brought in a top level chef to create dishes to match the categories. We were asked to write complete thoughts as well as recordings of our findings on tape.  In addition to participating in an incredible  judging event, we enjoyed wines from the cellars of many of the participating judges.

In the last month I’ve had two exciting Australian wine encounters that rocked my world. First, Michael Twelftree – Proprietor & Managing Director of Two Hands Wines – visited the Wine.com offices. Listening to him as we tasted his wines was simply amazing. The intensity and passion he conveyed made the tasting an experience of a lifetime. I learned that Twelftree was very adamant about producing wines of integrity and elegance in order  to shed the preconception that Aussie wines are mostly big and brawny. Three weeks later, I attended a presentation by Sue Hodder – Senior Winemaker of Wynns Coonwarra Estates – and found the wines equally remarkable; they were wonderfully rich and well-balanced. Both winemakers had succeeded in convincing me that their country produces truly world class wines.

While Shiraz remains high on my charts of Australian wines, I am taking a new path and seriously looking at Cabernet Sauvignons. Two of my current favorites are the super-rich 2012 Two Hands Sexy Beast and the elegant yet persistent 2012 Wynns Coonawarra Estate Black Label Cabernet Sauvignon. Try either of these wines with a juicy steak and prepare to have your world rocked by Australia too!

Make Way for the 2013 Rombauer Chardonnay

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With the highly-anticipated release of the 2013 Rombauer Chardonnay, I got to thinking about how this varietal became what it is to the US wine drinking public. Like Cabernet Sauvignon, domestic Chardonnay kicked into high gear in the 1970s and really it has never looked back. When I started my competitive wine judging career in the late 1980s, judges felt rewarded when a competition gave them Chardonnays. It was the most coveted category in those days because it was the hot new superstar. Now, decades later, Chardonnay is the best-selling wine varietal in the United States because it is so consistently good.

At all price points, from under $10 to the-sky-is-the-limit, Chardonnay performs well. And not just those from California, but from all over the world, this wine clearly attracts the whole range of consumers.

Since 1982, Rombauer Vineyards in the Napa Valley has produced one of the state’s most sought-after Chardonnays. In all channels, from retail to restaurants, Rombauer is a leading performer. Because of its crowd-pleasing style and inviting flavor profile, it’s the perfect wine to sip on a sunny deck or serve to wine-loving guests.

I serve Chardonnay often because my family, friends and neighbors enjoy it, and Rombauer is one my top choices. The new release 2013 Rombauer Chardonnay, made from the winery’s estate-grown grapes in the cool climate Carneros District is another winner. It shows ripe tropical fruit and high quality oak in admirable balance. The 2013 vintage was nearly ideal in northern California and without question, this Chardonnay benchmark shows it.  Let’s celebrate the release of the 2013!

Wine Bloggers are here to stay

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One of the hardest groups to wrap our heads around is Wine Bloggers. Who are they? What do they do? What effect do they have on the wine business? In the old days, newspapers were the only venue, followed by wine newsletters (circa 1970). An aspiring writer had to have a column somewhere. Whether it was a small town paper, an urban newspaper or a syndicated column spanning lots of turf, writers were only considered bona fide it  someone thought they were good enough to be in print.

I attended my first Wine Bloggers Conference in Portland, Oregon two years ago. I met an array of writers from the simple enthusiast to the serious reviewer. Whether they wrote once in a while or often, I assumed that all of them could write, it was simply a matter of how big their audience was and whether they would grow. Recently I attended Wine Bloggers Conference 2014 (Twitter handle: #wbc14) and was even more impressed than I was in Portland. Perhaps because I had become a participant in the wine blogger world and now had a better understanding of what that meant.

The weekend proved extremely educational and enjoyable. Zephyr Adventures, the organizers of this event, put together a tremendous conference that included a little bit about everything. They covered a wide variety of topics, including an insightful presentation (The U.S. Wine Consumer: Who, What & Where) by Michael Osborn, founder and vice president of merchandising at Wine.com, and an incredible tasting of Santa Barbara County Syrah (Syrah Territory: Ballard Canyon hosted by Ballard Canyon Grower Producer Wineries).

As I completed my summary of the weekend in Buellton, I highlighted the Live Wine Blogging – Whites & Rosés as the most exhilarating of all. Two years ago, I poured wines. This time, I joined the bloggers and was seated at a table ready to taste, photograph and tweet. Some wine tasters might regard speed tasting as totally crazy and not productive, but I found that my palate could actually perform well in the ten minute window of chaos that each wine presenter was given. While I tasted and quickly recorded many wines, it was the 2013 Ferrari-Carano Fumé Blanc that I remember most. Aromatic and pure, with notes of citrus peel, melon and grass, the wine’s easy-drinking yet crisp palate stayed with me for a long time following the event.

How will wine bloggers figure in the business of wine? One doesn’t really know; some will blog once in a while and have little research to back their findings, others will write at the level of the great wine writers, most will be somewhere in-between. One thing is for sure: They are here to stay.

Silver Oak Cabernet Sauvignon is a time-tested treat!

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Let’s go back in time to really understand how far Silver Oak Cellars has come. In the early 1970’s, Justin Meyer and Ray Duncan decided to launch a winery dedicated exclusively to making Cabernet Sauvignon, a bold move.  At this time, varietal wines had not yet become a reality in the United States. Most American wines were generic (Chablis, Burgundy and Vin Rose) or fortified wines (port, white port, tokay, muscatel). Serious table wines from California were not yet a reality. The French owned the market (Bordeaux, Burgundy, Beaujolais, etc.) So who are these renegades to create a winery dedicated exclusively to Cabernet Sauvignon? They were pioneers!

What came first? The label or the water tower?
Consumers recognize the iconic water tower on the Silver Oak label – and possibly from visiting the winery, as one sits above both tasting rooms in Alexander Valley and Napa. But alas, the label was not inspired by the water tower, in fact, it was inspired by original co-founder Bonny Meyer, who photographed upwards of 30 Napa Valley water towers. Meyer finally commissioned  John Farrell, a young local artist,  to create the Silver Oak label with the water tower image. The physical tower was built afterwards.

Today, the marketplace can’t get enough of Silver Oak. Huge crowds descend each year on the little town of Oakville on the winery’s well-orchestrated release day. Under the direction of winemaker Daniel Baron, Silver Oak Cabernet Sauvignon continues to improve remains one of Napa Valley’s most sought-after wines.

The 2010 Silver Oak Alexander Valley Cabernet serves up plenty of ripe fruit flavors, with an accent of savory herbs and a shading of sweet oak. Delicious now, especially with a highly marbled grilled rib eye of beef, this wine will enjoy development in the cellar for another 10-15 years. The winery’s chef Dominic Orsini recommends flank steak and salsa verde. Doesn’t that sound good? I am sure glad we have progressed since the 1970’s – Silver Oak Cabernet Sauvignon is a time-tested treat!

A celebration of Australian Wine

AustraliaVineyardsAustralia Day! It’s a great day to do a little education on Australian wines. Not to mention stock up on some of my favorites.

Australia has been in the wine production business for centuries, but only in the last 60 years has it focused on creating dry wines, and only in the last 30 years has it really been internationally recognized in the wine world. Lucky for us, Australian Wine is not a fad –  it’s only growing in quality and popularity.

Australia is one of my favorite wine regions. I once designed an online course for Australia and through all the research and map-drawing and wine tasting, I realized that this may be one of my favorite wine regions. After a visit in 2007, I was not only thrilled with the wines but also the people – seriously, some of the most friendly people we’ve met in the wine industry have been these fantastic people!

wineaustraliaFor our Australia Day celebration at Wine.com, we’re offering 10% off any 6 or more bottles of Australian wine and trust me, it’s not too hard to stock up on a whole 6 bottles. Just depends on your style.

Shiraz? Yes, this is the most popular and most planted grape in Australia, and makes some of the most delicious and diverse wines out there. From value to collectible and from bright and light-bodied to dense and mouth-coating. If you prefer a lighter style, head to Victoria (Yarra Valley, Mornington Peninsula, Bendigo and the like). Big and bold you seek? Barossa is the way to go. And if you’re somewhere in the middle we recommend McLaren Vale Shiraz for you.

Cabernet Sauvignon – two places that do it best. Margaret River in Western Australia (think Bordeaux style) and Coonawarra in South Australia. Coonawarra Cab has such a delicious and distinct flavor profile, it’s almost hard to describe. Eucalyptus, sweet mint, floral, brambly, dark berry fruit… all around a wonderful style of wine. And if you want the structured style of Cab, pick up a bottle from Margaret River to pair with a steak. Sure to delight.

Chardonnay lovers can head to a number of regions, like Margaret River (please try the Leeuwin Estate Artist Series if you love good Chardonnay – you will never go back), Yarra Valley and Eden Valley.

Dry Riesling fans should most definitely pick up wines from the Clare Valley – mineral, wet stone and lime characteristics will jump out of the glass and the acidity will have your mouth singing with glee!

aussiecloudsGrenache, especially of the old vine sort, makes some amazing wines, but also excels in the GSM blends- also known as Rhone blends – you’ll find some excellent ones in South Australia around Adelaide, particularly in McLaren Vale.

Pinot Noir continues to rock from Yarra Valley and surrounding regions, and then you have grapes like Vermentino and Sangiovese making an appearance. In all, it’s kind of like California, where you can find a little bit of everything to fit everyone’s tastes.

Now, here are some of our favorite producers you must look for: Peter Lehmann, d’Arenberg, Yalumba, Penley Estate, Leeuwin, Robert Oatley, Clarendon Hills, Penfolds and plenty more.

Make sure to use code AussieDay at checkout to receive 10% off 6 or more bottles on Wine.com. (ends 1/26/14 at midnight).

Cheers!