Category Archives: What We’re Drinking

Chardonnay Revisited

ABC – Anything but Chardonnay. You may have heard it from a few wine drinkers along the road. Fed up with the over-oaked, big butter, creamed-corn style Chardonnays that were coming out of California about 10 years ago, many wine lovers swore off the grape, particularly California style. I still talk to people who tell me they just don’t like Chardonnay (which is when I have them taste Chablis). While I did not have  an adamant hatred of the grape, I certainly would choose a slew of other wines before ordering or drinking a California Chardonnay. But recently, this changed.

It all started when I wasnewton chard vines categorizing some wines into our “style of wine” categories on Wine.com. A few wines I had not yet tried, and so instead of throwing all California Chardonnay into “rich and creamy,” I carefully read through the tasting notes offered by the winemaker and even ordered a few of which I was unsure. As I read note after note, even those that were rich and creamy, with notes of butterscotch, fig and crème brulee, I started craving a California Chardonnay. Enough with grassy, acidic Sauvignon Blanc, or my go-to Rose for summer. No more cool Torrontes or Gruner Veltliner. Not even my favorite Chablis would do the trick. I wanted Chardonnay. Not the buttery oak bombs of yesteryear, but the delicious fruit & oak balance with a creamy finish that these wine notes promised. I was salivating.

I ordered a few Chardonnays to taste and also had the pleasure of tasting a few at the Sonoma Wine Country Weekend over Labor Day. I am officially a Sonoma Coast and Russian River Valley Chardonnay girl. Sip after sip, I re-introduced my palate to California Chardonnay and am happy to say that they will once again have a place in my wine-drinking repertoire.

Here are the wines I found to quench my California Chardonnay thirst:

Davis Bynum Russian River Chardonnay – I remember stopping by this winery in 2003, before I’d ever heard of them (I was younger then, and living on the east cost). Their Chardonnay and Pinot Noir got two thumbs up, and we packed some up in our luggage to bring home. I got to re-taste these delicious wines at the Sonoma Wine Country Weekend and once again, gave them all two thumbs up. About $24.

anabaAnaba Sonoma Coast Chardonnay – a fairly new winery producing a red and white Rhone blend as well as this Sonoma Coast Chardonnay. Wow. This was an excellent wine and a perfect example of what cool-climate Chardonnay can do. Clean, crisp, with lovely ripe fruit balanced by a creamy texture and subtle vanilla oak flavors. Really lovely. Winemaker, Jennifer Marion, knows her stuff, too. Young and eager, she is doing some great things here…  $25.

Landmark Overlook Chardonnay – mmmmm… this is one of those full-bodied wines that while rich, have a nice backbone of crisp acid and citrus to back up the tropical fruit & oak. The '2007 vintage is $26

Newton Unfiltered Chardonnay – An all time favorite. It’s expensive, but if you have the opportunity to taste it, do so. Apple, toast, spice and a long finish make this a wine to savor. See Newton Vineyard pictured above. The ‘06 vintage is on sale for $53.

Au Bon Climat Chardonnay – Jim Clendenen shows us what California Chardonnay should be. From a warmer climate, the ABC combines bright donkey and goatfruit and lush vanilla and oak into a Chardonnay that is definitely California, but the way it should be. This is a Chardonnay I truly enjoy AND it’s at $20.

A Donkey and Goat Chardonnay – Small boutique winery in Berkeley, CA, Jared and Tracy Brandt get their Chardonnay fruit from the Chalone appellation, which is a bit warmer, but they do this wine well. Again, the balance is excellent. They actually blend in some of the ver jus to heighten acidity and lower alcohol. The result is fantastic! $40.

My favorite non-California Chardonnay picks are these, and they are great, easy-drinking Chardonnays, almost all at $20 or less.

Catena Chardonnay – From Argentina. A perfectly balanced Chardonnay. Always a crowd pleaser. $20

Meerlust Chardonnay – Excellent South African Chardonnay – good balance and structure. Also $20

Errazuriz Wild Ferment Chardonnay – Rich and delectable, this has got layers of complexity, great balance and a wonderfully long finish. Great for the price!!! $18

Cape Mentelle Chardonnay – Always a winner from the left coast of Australia. Classic Chardonnay style. $20

Tell us – what are your favorite Chardonnays?

Perfect Indian Summer Whites from Southern Italy!

italy

Fall indicators become apparent after the Labor Day Weekend with school back in session and the leaves on the trees about to change color. But  many parts are enjoying an Indian summer with unusually warm temperatures. On those hot days, I always recommend dry and aromatic whites from the Mediterranean. Specifically, I’m quick to mention the array of Italian white varietals for the dinner table and barbecue gatherings. Where can you find more varietal options than Italy, which holds claim to over 2,000 native varietals?

The Italian White category is one of the most underrated categories in the White Kingdom for the QPR (Quality Price Ratio)! Anothsellamoscaer perk is that the category offers a great range of pairing options from semi soft cheeses to the foods of the sea. Also, let’s not forget the antipasti course. The most known Italian grape is Pinot Grigio hands down, which hails from the Northeastern corridor of the country: Alto Adige, Collio, Friuli, Trentino and the Veneto. But, let’s not forget the wonders of Southern Italy, where many native cultivars date back to Phoenician and Greco-Roman times. greco

There’s no better place to start in the South than Campania, the district that surrounds Naples, and where the grapes Falanghina, Fiano and Greco di Tufo take center stage. These varietals languished for several decades, but now have made a roaring comeback, making Campania the center of the Southern Italian Wine Renaissance.

Sicily, the largest island in the Mediterranean, has followed suit over the last 15 years, with wine imports recently hitting an all-time high. Importers are finally bringing in an array of wines made from ancient varietals like Inzolia, Catarratto, Ansonica and Grecanico. Several noted houses blend Inzolia and Chardonnay together. The finest producers make incredible blends from several of the above mentioned grapes – these are worth seeking out.

Zipping over to Sardinia, or Sardegna to natives, Vementino takes prominence in the northern portion of the island. Galluria is the most noted vermentino sardinia and prized D.O.C.G. for this region. Vermentino also grows in Tuscany, but the exotic fruit characteristics on the nose and palate really shine through with the Sardinian rendition.

The common denominator for all these Southern Italian whites are great price points, praise from the press, alluring aromatics, exotic fruit notes braced by excellent minerality and acidity, versatile food pairing wines, and alcohol levels are in check (12.0%-13.5% alc.) without the use of cumbersome oak. Both the neophyte and serious enthusiast can find tremendous benefits from this category.

My highly recommended picks:

Falanghina: Terredora, Irpinia D.O.C., Campania 2008

Greco: Feudi di San Gregorio, di Tufo D.O.C.G., Campania 2007

Ansonica-Catarratto blend: Donnafugata “Anthìlia”, Sicily IGT 2007

Inzolia, Catarratto & Grecanico blend: Regaleali Bianco, Sicily IGT 2007

Vermentino: Argiolas “Costamolino”, Sardegna D.O.C. 2008

Why I love Viognier

This often mis-pronounced grape is being found on more tables and taking up more room in wine store racks – thank goodness! What a delicious and complex wine this grape can become! It can also offer wonderful easy-drinking values. I love it because it can come in so many forms – single varietal, in a white wine blend, or even in a red wine blend.

Due to the fact that the grape is naturally low in acidity, Viognier can be tricky to pick and produce. It has to be harvested at just the right time to maintain that balance between acid and fruit. It also lacks longevity, even at the high-end, so even when you’re buying “collectible” bottles, they are meant to be drunk within a few years.

What makes Viognier so appealing? Hard to put a finger on it, but for me it's the combination of aromatics and texture that make it so delicious. The nose is full of apricot, peach and perfume, while on the palate, you have this lovely, rich coating texture that is all from the grape rather than oak or malo-lactic fermentation. One drawback (or benefit, depending on how you look at it) is the alcohol levels can be high. Still the wines are a pleasure to drink.

Viognier is also a master blender, both for white wines as well as red. In white blends, its favorite partners include other Rhone varieties like Roussanne, Marsanne and Grenache Blanc. For red wines, it is actually co-fermented in small amounts with Syrah. The original region using this blend, Cote Rotie permits up to 20% of Viognier in its wines though its usually a much smaller percentage. Oddly enough, the addition of Viognier actually deepens the color of the Syrah and definitely boosts its aromatics. So successful in Cote Rotie, the practice has been picked up elsewhere, most notably in Australia, where you commonly find Shiraz + Viognier blends.  ch  grillet

Where does Viognier grow best? As a single varietal wine, you have the classic all-Viognier, all the time appellation, Condrieu. Condrieu is situated in the northern Rhone and produces some of the most delicious and complex Viognier you can find. Within Condrieu lies Chateau Grillet (pictured to the right), a small appellation of only a few hectares, which also produces only Viognier. Always under single ownership, this small production of Vigonier has a higher price tag, mostly due to its scarcity. California is also making some awesome Viognier, a few of my favorites being Cline and Bonterra. Australia has also found a niche with Viognier – Yalumba is doing great stuff with the grape and has an excellent organic Viognier.

When it comes to Viognier in blends, head to the Rhone where you’ll find it in many of the Rhone whites (though not in Chateauneuf-du-Pape whites, as it is not one of the 13 permitted varieties). And, like the single varietal wines, California and Australia are making some excellent white Rhone blends with Viognier.

For Syrah/Shiraz with Viognier? Cote-Rotie is the classic place to find this. But the hefty price tag and scarcity of those wines may send you looking elsewhere, in which case head to Australia. They have really embraced this blend and producers like Innocent Bystander, d’Arenberg and Yalumba are making some quite delicious examples. Do watch those alcohol levels though… they can get up there!

For food pairings, I love sipping it with roast chicken or a rich pasta sauce. My corny side loves to enjoy it on its own watching the sunset.

Vacation Vino

A quick trip to Hawaii earlier this week was quite delightful. Beautiful weather, great views, long swims in the ocean. And due to resort prices,sunset we shipped ourselves some vino from the site. In between Pina Coladas and the occasional Mai Tai, here are three wines we tried (and recommend).

Bodegas Berroja Berroia Txakoli 2008 – Deliciously refreshing wine from Spain, with aromas of flowers, citrus and minerals. Palate has some excellent acidity but with a very round texture. Excellent summer wine and aperitif. About $18.

Bieler Rose Sabine 2008 – This may be my new favorite rose. I loved this wine! Dry, mineral-driven, but with excellent red fruits that make it a beautiful well-balanced wine. I may have been in Hawaii drinking it in a plastic cup, but for a moment I felt like I was in Provence. Drink as an aperitif or with olives and cheese or other appetizers. And only about $12

Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir 2007 – Um, yeah, this wine rocks. Pinot Noir from South Africa? You bet. And it’s darn good. Hails from the Walker Bay area where Burgundian style soils and a cool sea breeze make for an excellent Pinot Noir breeding ground. Has that typical South African smokiness, but very well tamed by the delicate fruit and spice. Recommend with some venison or other game perhaps. This was a splurge wine for us, at $45. 

Happy drinking!

Finding good wine under $10


In tasting a lot of wine, one learns that price does not always dictate quality. However, in general, it can be a good indicator of what the bottle has in store. That’s why it’s exciting to find inexpensive wine that delivers well over its price tag. We can usually find a good number of wines under $20 that do this. Finding good wines under $10 can be more of a challenge. And since some of us are keeping our purse strings tighter, spending even $7 on a wine is an investment we would like to be sure pays off. 

Luckily, there are a few go-to regions or styles that consistently offer great value wines for around $10 a bottle.

cristalino

Cava – you cannot go wrong with most Cavas. Dry and crisp, this style of bubbly is a perfect solution for getting your bubble fix without breaking into the savings. Great as an aperitif, with some chinese take out, or in Mimosa form. Try Cristalino Brut Cava or Segura Viudas.

Vinho Verde – Refreshing. That’s the best word that describes this wine. Slightly fizzy, oh so slightly sweet, very low alcohol, crisp & fruity. We love this wine. It is perfect for lunch or on a hot day. Also makes a wildly good white sangria! Try Broadbent or Aveleda.

Chenin Blanc from South Africa – The most planted variety in the country, Southkanu Africa makes some pretty awesome dry Chenin Blanc. Similar to Sauvignon Blanc in  style, but with a slightly richer texture and lacking the grassy element of SB, Chenin is a great crisp, fresh wine. Some producers in the $10 range include Kanu, Indaba and MAN Vintners

Red cdrRhone blends – Rhone blends are great food wine and great party wines. An added benefit of being a blend is the ability to change the blend percentages each  year, depending on which grape variety fared best in each vintage. This creates  consistency in quality. Look for Cotes-du-Rhones from France – ‘05,’06 and ‘07 were excellent years.  Australia also make great value blends.

Spanish Monastrell – otherwise known as Mourvedre, the grape actually hails from Spain originally, but is now an integral part of the blends in the Southern Rhone, as well as Rhone blends around the world. In Spain, the vine thrives in the hot, dry weather of Jumilla and Yecla, where it produces dense, concentrated wines with lots of jammy fruit and low price tags. Spicy and smooth, these are great value wines. Try the Bodega Castano Monastrell.