Category Archives: What We’re Drinking

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!

 

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.

 

The perfect match: New Zealand and Sauvignon Blanc

While many regions produce incredible and delicious Sauvignon Blanc, and while New Zealand produces a myriad of top-quality varietals, there is no combination quite like Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand.

New Zealand arrived on the international wine scene in 1979 — not long ago, even by New World standards — when Montana Wine Company produced its first Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough vineyards. Over the next decade, the country’s reputation transformed from “small island near Australia” to “wine-producing powerhouse.”

Sauvignon Blanc took over a larger proportion of New Zealand’s production in the 1980s, when a wine glut led to government-ordered vine-pulling. In response, most wineries pulled out the less noble varietals Muller-Thurgau and Chenin Blanc. That same decade saw a Phylloxera outbreak that led to re-plantings of Sauvignon Blanc on Phylloxera-resistant rootstock.

In 1985, Cloudy Bay launched its Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc in that distinctive style we now associate with most New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. This wine burst onto the global stage and arguably put New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc on the world wine map.

So, what is it about New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc that has consumers ditching their by-the-glass Pinot Grigios? First, the style is distinctive. For new and experienced wine drinkers alike, there is something to be said about intense aromatics. New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc offers a consistent bouquet of lime, grapefruit, cut grass, herbaceous undertones and a touch of bell pepper. It’s immensely appealing, refreshing and memorable. People describe it unlike any other wine – zesty, prickly, feisty, electric, zingy… descriptors that make your taste buds wake up and sing!

As we move through spring and into summer, New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc will certainly be a staple in my fridge and a go-to for pool parties and summer-evening soirees.

Home for the holidays: A six-pack of wines for Thanksgiving

Once again,  the holidays are here and what are we going to do for the various celebrations that are coming upon us? The family is primed for the annual requisite visits. How about expanding this base and say that home is where the heart is, and while it naturally includes family, it may also include special friends and cool neighbors as well. For the first of the big occasions, I have put together a six pack of wines that are sure to add to the pleasures of Thanksgiving.

For starters, the Mumm Napa Brut Rosé is a festive and serious sparkler that will turn all tongues into receptors of joy. This wine shows a beautiful pink color, offers plenty of ripe strawberry flavors, and is crisp in the finish. Begin the evening with this bubbly and you may find yourself with empty bottles early in the evening! Adding to the early evening festivities, the 2016 Leo Steen Chenin Blanc would be an enticing pairing with seared scallops or other shellfish. The wine’s purity of fruit and crispness would bring those seafood entrées alive.

With the appetites energized from the early going and waiting for the main event be it a roast turkey or a prime rib roast, a trio of my next choices would be eager to serve the voracious guests. The 2015 Eroica Riesling would be the perfect white to taking on either of the entrées. This beautifully fragrant white wine, with a slight shading of residual sugar, is crisp and lively on the finish. It is equally adept with handing light and dark meat dishes. By now, I can hear the cries, “Aren’t there any red wines?” Well, yes and I have chosen a pair of elegant reds to work their respective magic. The fresh, bright, and crisp 2014 Palmina Dolcetto will allow the juiciness of the turkey to shine through nicely and the rich finely balanced 2013 Wild Ridge Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir will be perfect for those desiring density and elegance.

The wine choice for the meal’s conclusion could be difficult, but the Lustau East India Solera Sherry is prepared to close out the evening on a high note. Pumpkin or pecan pie, ice cream, and evening remaining servings of candied yams will find a lovely home here. This is my six-pack choice for Thanksgiving.

Enjoy!

 

 

Bordeaux: It’s for everyone

Innovative yet traditional, easy-drinking yet complex, delicious and approachable now but also able to sustain the long haul, that’s Bordeaux in a nutshell. It’s a rather large and diverse nutshell, but the point is that while Bordeaux is the quintessential region for wine aficionados and collectors, it is also the region for the everyday wine drinker. Once the basics are introduced, anyone can embrace and understand the wines of Bordeaux.

Located along the Atlantic Ocean in the Southwest area of France, Bordeaux is the largest major appellation of France. It has 65 sub-appellations within its borders, and boasts over 275,000 hectares (nearly 275,00 acres) of land under vine. Red wine dominates Bordeaux today, representing 85% of its total production, though the dry whites, sweet wines, and even harder-to-find sparkling and rosé, are top quality. While Bordeaux has a tough climate—its proximity to the ocean makes it a fairly wet place, prone to disease and pests—its winemakers are striving for sustainability. The push for sustainable winegrowing and winemaking has taken hold.

With so many wine regions of the world to choose from, and so many of them newer than Bordeaux, why would you choose it? The answer is its diversity and sustainability.

Diversity
From white, rosé, red, and world-class sweet wines, Bordeaux has many families of wine at all different price points. Over the past century, Bordeaux has continued to focus on its terroir, finding the right grape for the right soil and microclimate, and making sure those grapes are expertly nurtured. For the white wine lover, excellent value wines labeled as from Entre-Deux-Mers or AOB Bordeaux Blanc deliver zesty acidity and ripe citrus fruit flavors in its wines. For more complexity and ageability, try the whites from the Graves district—in particular its sub-region or enclave Pessac Léognan.

Red wines range from delightfully fresh to dense, sappy and ready-to-drink to cellar-worthy. If you are looking for something to drink now that is fruit driven yet dense, and want something fruit-driven yet dense, try values from Fronsac, Castillon—Côtes-de-Bordeaux, or Francs—Côtes-de-Bordeaux. Bright and fresh qualities can be found in recent vintages of wine labeled Bordeaux and Bordeaux Supérieur. Most of these wines are based on the Merlot grape and are approachable now. For the cellar, we head to the left bank where the communes of the Haut Médoc offer structured Cabernet-based wines, which, in particularly in good vintages, can be cellared for a many years.

Sustainability
Bordeaux has a maritime climate, which means climatic challenges. Rain at flowering or harvest increases disease pressure (aka likelihood of rot). While Bordeaux might not be top of mind when you think of organic, the push toward sustainable winegrowing and winemaking has definitely taken hold. Sustainability and environmental responsibilities are high priorities across Bordeaux today, and start early in the vineyard. Diverse cover crops are found between the vines, creating biodiversity and encouraging natural predators to help manage pest control. In addition, cover crops create mild competition, managing vine vigor and forcing vine roots to go deeper. Canopy management techniques have become more sophisticated to foster healthier vines and prevent or manage common diseases. These practices lessen the need for any additional chemical spraying.