Category Archives: Wine Recommendations

The World’s Best Wine Values under $15.00

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“I just could not spend another dime, I really wanted a wine that my friends and I could just drink and not talk about!” How often do you feel like this? Far too often I am sure. In my wine world, I taste and evaluate all price points and yes my soul awakens when I can taste and savor a glass of Krug Champagne or ponder over a pour of Château Latour – my pocketbook opens just once when those wines come into my periscope. So how about some wines that we all can afford? Where are the great value wines? The trends have been pointing towards Spain, Argentina and Chile, among other areas in the world. I agree those are the usual places that we should look. That said, when value-hunting, looking in unlikely places can often yield incredible discoveries. I have stumbled across three unlikely places for superb values under $15.00. Let’s take a look at Australia, Italy and the USA.

For two decades Australia has been lying in wait to be re-discovered. A star in the 1990’s this multi-faceted viticultural area has been fluttering in space. This was the country that had brought Shiraz (aka: Syrah) to the fore only to become mired in a “cheap” wine mode. Most recently the Aussies have made incredibly fine wines in all price ranges. The 2011 Wild Oats Shiraz drinks exceptionally well. Supported by some subtle sweet tannins for texture, this wine delivers its ripe fruit flavors all the way through its finish. Yes, this is one of the world’s best bargains in fine red wines.

When wine drinkers hear of Tuscany, they think of Chianti. As one of the world’s most revered regions, this area has found its sweet spot in the $20 to $40 range, but every once-in-a-while, one can uncover a super bargain and that is just what the 2010 Borgo Scopeto Chianti Classico offers. Decidedly sassy and true-to-the-region, this wine plays nicely into the hands of those that want to save a few $$$’s.

One area that one never hears of in the value camp is the USA and how about Oregon, no way! The 2013 Acrobat Pinot Gris is so succulently good. Plenty of ripe fruit and nice acidity, this wine outplays many wines in the $20+ range.

While the expensive and exotic marquis wines get all the ink and a few regions in the world have gained the reputation for their “great wine values,” the best values are often found in the most unlikely of places. As a wine retail veteran of 40+ years, I have learn that deals can show up from anywhere in the world. If you are like me (a bargain hunter) let the world be your oyster. Remember the best pearls are often found after the dirt has been washed away.

Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon: Elegant, Wonderful and Timeless

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My first cab? I think it was a mid-1960’s Beaulieu Vineyard Georges de Latour Private Reserve. My dad always enjoyed a glass of BV Georges on special occasions and somewhere around the age of 15 I must have taken a sip or two when he wasn’t looking. When I started drinking wine on my own, I discovered the 1968 BV Georges and the 1967 Heitz Martha’s Vineyard. Like all top wines of that era, they were elegant and stately. Over the next three decades California  ratcheted up of the power in this varietal. By the mid 1990’s, California Cabernet Sauvignon had evolved into monsters of the midway. Decidedly full bodied and tannic, they commanded attention and could overpower meals they were supposed to support.  Only the finest producers knew how to tame the new-age Cabernet Sauvignon, which leads me to Jordan Vineyards & Winery.
The winery comments, “When the first vintage (1976) of Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon debuted, it was an immediate success due to its elegance and early approachability, as well as its affinity for food.” As a retailer in San Francisco, I saw the first-hand reactions by my customers as they told me how much they loved this wine. The winery knew the style of wine that this area was destined to make and never wavered in their efforts to be true. While some wineries went bigger and bigger, Jordan maintained its balance. This is why I have always been a big fan of the Jordan Cabernets.

In a recent staff tasting at Wine.com, I poured the 2010 Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon. I found the wine elegant and full of finely-tuned red fruit aromas and flavors. Aside from breaking the wine down into its components, the most important aspect of the wine was its completeness. It was not imposing or over-the-top. Isn’t providing pleasure one of the goals of a wine? As with this moment in time, I have never poured a Jordan Cabernet that was not appreciated by all. I had been drinking California Cabernet for more than a decade before the 1976 debuted in 1980, and while it may not have been my first Cabernet, it is what I am drinking and serving as often as I can. The Jordan Cabernet is elegant, wonderful and timeless.

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!

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!