Category Archives: What We’re Drinking

The Forgotten Wine

I’ve often heard stories of places, magical places, beyond San Francisco where temperatures rise above 70 degrees for extended periods of time, known as seasons. I once had relatives visit from Michigan who packed nothing but shorts to wear, ignoring our warnings that San Francisco is not a very warm place and the weather is usually a crapshoot.

So when I imagine myself in warmer places, what am I drinking? It’s complicated. I could choose a white or sparkling wine but that’s too obvious, deep down I really want a nice chilled Rosé – she’s that pretty girl that no one asks to the school dance despite her killer moves. I forget about Rosé myself and get annoyed when I realize it.  Rosé has all the great red fruit and floral aromas we love about red wine and the bright acidity we love about white wines. A good Rosé will pair well with meat (especially pork) and seafood (move over Sauvignon Blanc) and mop the floor with many pasta dishes and Mexican dishes.

I can’t think of a single place in the wine world that doesn’t make Rosé. It is usually made using whatever the dominant red variety of the region is, like Syrah for Rhone Rosés, etc.  Rosés are usually made by either “bleeding” juice off from fermenting red wine, a technique known as Saignée, or by allowing only brief skin contact .  Cheap Rosés are made by mixing red and white wine – skip those.

Long story short, don’t forget about Rosé – she likes to boogie.

Impressions from Bordeaux

I recently returned from a glorious week in Bordeaux, touring the different appellations and tasting through the 2010s of each district’s wines. Some of these tastings were held privately at the Chateau, where only the wines from their specific property were tasted. Some were organized communal tastings at a Chateau, where several dozen producers from specific appellations, i.e. the Medoc (St. Estephe, Pauillac, Margaux, St Julien), were pouring their wines with throngs of people tasting and spitting in a choreographed dance together.

This week long event, which is billed as En Primeur, is attended by the wine trade and press from around the world. I didn’t run into Robert Parker…but did see both Jancis Robinson and Steven Spurrier (Decanter) on my last days private tasting at Lafite Rothschild, where we tasted the 2010 Lafite Rothschild, 2010 Duhart Milon, and the 2010 Carruades de Lafite. The main purpose of the event is to get a general sense of what the vintage has to offer, and to drum up enthusiasm in anticipation of the 2010 Futures Offerings.

The overall mood for the vintage is very high. Initial scores seem to mirror the optimism. The wines from the 2010 vintage that I tasted were fantastic and I’m excited to have the opportunity to offer them to you in the very near future.

Until then, Wine.com has three very special older vintage wines from Bordeaux (2 Right Bank & 1 Left Bank). Both Chateau Branon and Chateau Valandraud are considered to be “garagistes”… innovative winemakers in the Bordeaux region producing “Vins de garage” or “Garage wine.” Few exemplify the garagiste idiom more than Jean-Luc Thunevin and wife Murielle Andraud of St-Emilion’s Chateau Valandraud. Elevated to cult status thanks to a string of high ratings from influential American critic Robert Parker, Valandraud – literally operating out of a garage – had in guts what Medoc powerhouses had in budget. Founded in 1989 on a 1 hectare plot in Saint-Emilion, with limited funds for equipment, much work was done primitively by hands and feet in their garage, with high detail labor resulting in low output yields defining the methods of the model.

Helene Garcin, owner of Chateau Branon, is also the owner of the third wine in this offer, 2001 Clos L’Eglise Pomerol. We spent an afternoon at another of her wineries (life is rough!), Barde-Haut in St. Emilion, tasting vintages 2008, 2009, 2010 of her properties’ wines (Chateau Branon, Haut-Bergey, Clos L’Elise, Barde-Haut).

What a treat!!! All three of these wines are perfectly aged to drink now! My buying team secured excellent pricing on each of these wines, which allows me to offer them out at the lowest published price in the nation.

The only way to order these wines is by clicking onto the wine names below.  You’ll be directed to the shopping cart. From there, enter the number of bottles you wish to secure (repeat to add additional bottles), proceed to checkout, enter your account details, and you’re off to the races.

2001 Chateau Valandraud – $129.00 per bottle
Lowest published price in the nation! Wine-searcher which shows the national price range = $167.00 – $376.00 per bottle (Average price $238.00)

St-Emilion, Bordeaux, France
“As hard as it may be to believe, Valandraud’s 2001 is better than their 2000. One of the great efforts from proprietors Murielle Andraud and Jean-Luc Thunevin, the 2001 Valandraud boasts a saturated plum/purple color as well as a sumptuously sweet nose of Varhona chocolate intertwined with espresso roast, blackberries, cherry jam, and currants. Full-bodied, opulent, voluptuously textured, pure, rich, and seriously endowed, this is a brilliant effort from Bordeaux’s leading revolutionary. Anticipated maturity: 2007-2020.”
94 Points
The Wine Advocate

2005 Chateau Branon – $99.99 per bottle
Lowest published price in the nation! Wine-searcher shows the national price range = $102.00 – $149.00 per bottle (Average price $116.00)

Pessac-Leognan, Bordeaux, France
“The vineyard, which is planted with equal parts Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon, is beautifully situated near Haut-Bailly and Malartic-Lagraviere. The gorgeous 2005 exhibits a classic Graves nose of graphite, charcoal, chocolate, scorched earth, blackberries, cassis, and hints of creosote and earth. The wine is opulent and full-bodied with a sensational texture as well as sweet tannin. This compelling Pessac-Leognan is more forward than the tannic Medoc cuvees. It will offer good drinking in 5-10 years, and should last for 2-3 decades.”
96 Points
The Wine Advocate

2001 Clos L’Eglise Pomerol – $92.99 per bottle
Lowest published price in the nation! Wine-searcher which shows the national price range = $153.00 – $161.00 per bottle (Average price $157.00)

Pomerol, Bordeaux, France
“The 2001 offers a huge spectrum of aromas, including notes of smoke, mocha, chocolate, coffee, and loads of blackberry, cherry, and currant fruit. The superb aromatics are followed by an elegant, medium-bodied, deliciously supple-textured, expansive, fleshy, beautifully pure, well-delineated Pomerol. It is a brilliant effort as well as one of the candidates for the wine of the appellation in 2001. Anticipated maturity: 2005-2014.”
95 Points
The Wine Advocate

Old World vs. New World Gruner Veltliner.

Many people are familiar with Gruner Veltliner from Austria, but did you know that we also have small amounts growing in this country? As far as I can tell there is some being made in Oregon and some in California, as well as Washington and perhaps some others. No matter how you look at it however, there is a very small amount being made here by a very few producers. I love the wines from this grape because it has a peppery note with a good backbone and nice acidity and fruit flavors that run the gamut from stone to apple and pear. The wines seem to pair well with a huge array of foods, perhaps better than almost any other. Because of this, sommeliers around the world are crazy about this wine, as am I.  Stylistically, it can range from light and crisp, easy drinking, to serious full-bodied and well oak aged efforts.

I decided that it might be interesting to try a California example against a fairly serious Austrian one.

Here are the two wines : Zocker Paragon Vineyard Gruner Veltliner and Weingut Knoll Federspiel Gruner Veltliner.

The Zocker is from the Central Coast in the Edna Valley. The Knoll is from The famed Wachau region of Austria.

So  now for the head to head tasting.  First the Knoll: On the nose it displays crisp apple and stone fruit with a bit of lemon curd and a bit of sweet vanilla and there is a white pepper note. When the wine enters the palate, it explodes with spicy ripe apple, guava, lemon and again pepper. The wine’s light color does not prepare you for the intense and density of the mouthfeel, and the mid-palate is especially good with this wine. The finish is very long and there is a bit of light tannin or maybe a tangerine pith quality on the tongue that mixes with the awesome mouth watering acidity.  Truly a classic and elegant, well-balanced, bone-dry wine. This wine will improve for at least 4-5 years and gets 4 stars.

The Zocker I would expect to be riper being from a warmer climate, and on the nose it certainly is.  I get pineapple and more tropical fruit notes, but also a balancing grapefruit aroma…nice. I also get sense of a cooler fermentation with a bit of that characteristic banana aroma that can come with it. In the mouth, right away, there is an almost candy-like golden delicious apple taste, surrounded by that Gruner pepper note, then a blast of nice acidity to round it out. The mouthfeel is rounder than the Knoll, and is more hedonistic, but still retains that true Gruner character, that I was afraid might be lost with the warmer climate. Although the wine is more full-bodied than the Knoll, it actually has a bit less concentration. I am impressed by the winemaking here as it is often tricky for Americans to master new varieties. This is pretty true to itself, whatever that means. This wine gets a 3.5 stars.

All in all, this was an interesting comparison and both wines show very well, with an added edge to the elegance of the Knoll. I, frankly, like both wines a lot, but would drink the Zocker in the next 2 years, and save the Knoll for a few more. I am impressed by the fact that the Zocker really does drink well, and believe that Gruner Veltliner has a good future being grown in this country.

Great tasting, and I see both these wines pairing very very well with many kinds of food.

Shop Like a Pro!

It’s time to up your game and shop like a pro.  So here they are – a few tips to help you pick out the best of the best and, bottle by bottle, transform yourself into the oenophile your parents always suspected you’d become.

Tip #1 Old to New

This first tip has very little application outside the wine world.  In fact, I discourage it for most other life scenarios, especially when shopping for milk or meat.  Find the oldest one on the shelf!  I always sort the 90 under $20 wine list by “Vintage:  Old to New.”  These lonely bottles are forgotten once newer, shinier bottles make their way onto the site.  That’s a shame because these wines are exactly what makes wine unique, they improve with age!  A little mellower, a little more complex, a little more integrated – a lot more interesting.

Tip #2  What the heck is that!?

Txakolina? Try it, you’ll like it.  Lesser known varietals like Torrontes, Graciano, Godello, Txakolina, Falanghina and Mencia, may not be as popular as Chardonnay but, ounce for ounce, these wines are some of this category’s top performers.  Complex, affordable and, best of all, unlike anything you’ve tried before.  They are a great way to expand your palate and the breadth of descriptors you use to describe wine.  Do you want to see why people describe Torrontes as smelling like Juicy Fruit gum or experience what a truly high acid wine feels like?  Then try a bottle of Torrontes and Txakolina.  Best of all these wines will blow your world of wine pairings wide open.  So experiment.   After trying some of these you’ll be loath to plunk down twice as much money for a more popular varietal.

Tip #3  Swoop in for Savings

Sort by savings!  You can sort our 90 under $20 list by savings and order a few killer $30-$40 wines for under 20 bucks.  Not only will these wines give you the most for your money, but they typically also offer the most in terms of cellaring potential.  The higher price can be an indicator that, unlike a $10 bottle, it’s a keeper and the winemaker put an extra level of care into ensuring it will develop over the years. That $30 bottle of Pinot Noir with 93 points from PinotReport is good now, but will also be good in another 5 years and you got it for just $19.99!

I’ve shared some of my top picks and my best tips on finding wines, now I’m curious to know about your favorite 90 under $20 wines.

Discover the Gems of Small Production Pinot Noir

At Wine.com we love working with wines like Schug 2008 Sonoma Cost Pinot Noir. While this wine has garnered great praise – 90 points from PinotReport – and can be seen on many top winelists around the country – the winery itself is a still family run operation focused on keeping production small and winemaking excellent. And, wow, at under $20 we consider this one of the wine steals of the year!

So what makes small production Pinot like Schug so great? Just like the great wines of Burgundy, the best small production Pinot Noir from around the world focuses on hand-crafting, small case quantities, and loving attention to detail. In general, Pinot Noir as a varietal does not lend itself to the large production winemaking techniques typically used in crafting other red wine varietals. And so, it has only the most committed of winemakers, like the Schug family, who have the patience and passion to produce great Pinot Noir. For the wine aficionado getting to know and love these small production wines is a lifelong affair. While small production creates a challenge to source and acquire the good stuff, the journey is filled with many tasty rewards. Get started now with this “hand-picked” selection of some of our favorite boutique small production Pinot Noirs from California, Oregon and beyond.